HL Deb 31 January 1956 vol 195 cc668-717

4.43 p.m.

LORD STRABOLGI rose to call attention to the cruelty involved in the training and use of performing animals for exhibition and entertainment purposes; to the general undesirability of such performances; and to their bad effect on children's education; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name I should like to say at the outset that this is not a Party matter. I felt that it would be useful to have a debate in your Lordships' House on the question of performing animals, however, since this subject has not come before your Lordships for more than twenty years. The last occasion was in 1933 when the late Lord Danesfort presented his Bill to forbid the training and exhibition of wild animals for entertainment purposes. That Bill was defeated by only one vote. The Select Committee appointed by the Government, which sat during 1921 and 1922, stated quite definitely in their Report that they were satisfied that certain charges of cruelty had been established. There is little reason to suppose that the situation has changed since then. I am not at all opposed to the circus per se. In the past I have derived a great deal of pleasure from watching acts by clowns, acrobats and other human beings; but I am strongly opposed to performances by animals, for reasons which I shall hope to bring to the attention of the House.

My first reason for being opposed to performing animals is that it is strongly believed by those most in position to know that methods of training them are either definitely cruel or, at any rate, for the most part undesirable. It is very difficult to get evidence on this matter, as most of these animals are trained on the Continent and when they come to this country they are already conditioned. I want particularly to stress that point, and also the fact that often they are shown by people other than those who have trained them. It is very important to remember that, particularly in view of a letter which I believe has been sent to all your Lordships and to myself by the proprietor of a well-known London circus, in which he invites noble Lords to visit what he calls his "training quarters" at any time, day or night. It may be of interest that the programme of this particular circus frequently has against animal acts the words, "First time in this country" so that one wonders how much actual training is done in those quarters and how much is merely a refresher course or rehearsal.

On the other hand, there is a certain amount of evidence about this training abroad. Some of it has been disclosed fortuitously, and I should like to quote one or two illustrations. In 1954 there was published in this country by the well-known French trainer, Alfred Court, a book called Wild Circus Animals. In this book, Court describes his training methods very frankly; and after reading the book one can have no doubt that they are most brutal and cruel. In one part the author says that Dr. Goebbels (of all people) was so shocked by his methods that he said to the manager of the Berlin Wintergarten "I agree, it's a sensational act, but what I have against Court is that he's too brutal with his animals." I will read to your Lordships some short extracts from this book.

On page 61 the author says: The stick and the whip are as necessary as the reward of meat, the soft voice and the caresses. A little later he writes: All the spectators knew that one of these tigers had killed a man that very morning. It was my turn to be brutal, terribly brutal, and brutal I was. All the clubs I had left in the cage were broken one by one on Bengali's head; lashes came down like an avalanche, each cutting deep into the tiger's shining coat. On page 144 the author writes as follows: I seized a heavy training stool, made of wood and steel, weighing a good eighty pounds. Raising it above my head I flung it at Artis, catching him on the hindquarters. The animal gave a terrible roar, a cry of pain rather than the roar of attack and turned to spring at me. But the poor beast did not get far. The iron stool had hit him harder than I had intended, snapping his leg. It may interest your Lordships to know that Alfred Court appeared at Blackpool in the summer of 1939. I am not contending for one moment that all trainers are like Court. On the other hand, lest anyone may think he is unique, may I remind your Lordships of the successful prosecution in the United States against Clyde Beatty, the well-known animal trainer and film star. Beatty was prosecuted for cruelty in 1936, the charge being that he had fired gunpowder into the lions' faces and struck the beasts with iron rods. I have here an extract from the Evening News of June 17. 1936, which I can show to any of your Lordships who may care to see it.

The other piece of evidence I should like to quote conies from an entirely independent source—the well-known Swedish illustrated magazine, Vecko-Revyn, dated April 10, 1953, which contains an article describing a visit to one of the training centres in Denmark. I have a copy of the magazine here, and I have taken the liberty of having the whole of the article translated. I should like to read one or two short extracts from it. This is the first: The following day we arrived at a moment when the attendant was not expecting us; and we were destined to witness an incident that made us definitely lose faith in the 'gentler' kind of circus training—one which convinced us that cruelty to animals is a factor in circus life. In a small shed that had very tiny windows—so dark that one could hardly see across the floor—were rows of cages piled one on top of another. The cages were so small that it would he heartless to keep even animals the size of a rabbit in them. Locked up in this cramping narrowness, in this dismal semidarkness—were dogs! Boxers and other large dogs. The public performance of these dogs consists, by the way, in their acting as a 'football team'—each dog being dressed up in an idiotic 'football suit. Thus attired, they have to push the ball towards one of the two goals. With the exception of the 'training'—this we were not admitted to, either—dogs are taken out of their hutches for a short while only each day, and then their 'freedom' consists in their being closely chained, each to its post and their 'sphere of activity' is limited to one metre at most in each direction. For the rest of their miserable life—or rather existence—they are pent up in the rabbit hutches. The second extract is as follows: When approaching the dogs' shed on a second occasion we were once more greeted with intense barking. But through the din a shrill howling, full of horror, came to our ears. We peeped through one of the tiny windows. There we saw the trainer in the act of chastising a beautiful boxer with a leather whip—and using all his strength. The dog was grovelling at his feet howling piteously. Blow upon blow descended upon the back of the unfortunate animal. Like a pistol shot the lash cracked at, every sweeping blow aimed by the man. What harm had the dog done? For what reason was it being punished so cruelly? … The trainer caught sight of us. He instantly stopped the ill-treatment and stuffed the whimpering dog back into its hutch. The authors go on to say: We both witnessed this, and we are both willing to testify to the truth of it.


May I interrupt the noble Lord to ask him a question? Does what he is now reading relate to something that happened in some foreign country? If so, does it really concern us, and any action we may take?


I assure the noble Lord that I do not in the least mind being interrupted. If he will bear with me for one moment I will go on to explain why I am quoting these extracts. The quotation which I was reading continues with these words: When we asked the trainer about the beating he muttered something about the dog making a … fuss and not obeying orders. That finished us for the circus once and for all. I think one can say that the gentlemen of the Press are always unbiased, and indeed one can always expect them to be particularly objective in their approach to controversial matters. But there is no doubt that this incident moved the writer of the article very deeply—indeed, to anyone who has kept boxers and has found them to be, as they are, the most delightful of all dogs. I think that an incident like that is particularly harrowing. Certainly it has continued to haunt me ever since I read of it. I should like to say that performing animal turns from this particular camp in Denmark, which seems to be a kind of animals' Belsen, have appeared in London in recent years, and there is one on at the moment. During the Second Reading of the Performing Animals (Regulation) Amendment Bill, which Lord Danesfort introduced in 1930 (this was the earlier Bill) the late Lord Auckland told your Lordships—here I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of March 13, 1930, col. 908: I have listened to trainers boasting of the brutalities which they find it necessary to inflict on the animals which they train. Lest it may be thought, however, that cruelty ceases when the animal has been trained and after it has arrived in this country, I should like to recount two further incidents which have been brought to my notice by eye-witnesses. An old friend of my family, herself the widow of a Member of another place, told me that just before the war she went with her husband to a circus in the London area. They went to the evening performance, and after the show they left with the rest of the audience and went to find their car. When they got to the car, my friend's husband could not find his ignition key. He searched through all his pockets without success. Then his wife said to him: "Perhaps you have left it at your seat in the circus: let us go back and try to find it." So they went back, and found the night watchman who let them in. After a great deal of difficulty, they eventually found their seats, and underneath one of them was the missing key. The auditorium was at the time in semi-darkness but the ring was fully lit. They saw that lions had been driven back there and the trainer was there with a man standing beside him with a revolver. The trainer was lashing the animals as hard as he could go with a whip: The lady said to her husband: "If you want to object do not shout now, because if you attract their attention the beasts may seize the chance to spring on the man." This incident horrified the lady. She has told me about it herself—I would rather her name was not disclosed, but she is a personal friend of my family.

Just before Christmas, the B.B.C. had a programme called "Any Answers?" which arose out of the previous programme called "Any Questions?" During this latter programme it was announced that the B.B.C. had received a great many letters from listeners and that the overwhelming majority of these expressed strong disapproval of acts featuring performing animals. Among them were several bearing witness to acts of cruelty. I should like to read one of these, which was from a listener in the West Country. This was read out on the B.B.C. this Christmas: I have made most things in my time, so when a length of steel tubing and a three-inch spike, together with a large fish-hook, were delivered to my workshop door, I got on to the job and did as the customer required. I fastened the spike in one end of the tube and the hook barb on the other. After the job was called for I inquired what … it was all about. I was told that my customer was an elephant trainer, and by poking the animal about the ears with the spike end, the beast would roll its head from side to side and swing its trunk around like an Indian club. By catching the hook barb under its foot, the animal would lift its leg and wave it around. I saw this turn later, and as the trainer bowed his way off after the applause, he waved the goad I had made. There were ribbons flying from its spike and it all looked charming. In the face of all this evidence, the circus authorities still maintain that animals are trained by kindness. If that is the case, why do they use the whip in the ring? In the circuses I myself visited this winter the whip cracked like a pistol shot the whole time. I cannot understand why this is used if it is not intended as a reminder of what the animal has undergone and of what it is likely to undergo if it fails in its turn. I cannot understand also why, if animals are trained by humane methods, the animal protection societies are not allowed to visit the training centres. The Select Committee of 1922 recommended this, but unfortunately it was not incorporated in the Act of 1925, which gave permission instead only to an officer of the local authority or a police officer, but neither of these officers may go behind the stage during a public performance of performing animals.

Quite apart from training methods, to which a strong suspicion attaches that they are cruel, there is great difficulty in keeping an animal up to the mark. There are many people who contend that because one can teach a dog to do a trick in the home by kindness, there is no cruelty involved in the training of performing animals. On the other hand, a dog in the home is quite free to reuse to do a trick if he does not feel inclined, but the performing animal is not allowed this latitude. It must be up to the mark for two, and sometimes three, performances a day. In this connection, I should like to quote a short extract from the evidence given by the late Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, who was Secretary of the Zoological Society, to the Select Committee of 1922. He said: … if at a quarter past eight in the evening, when the bell rings and the curtain goes up, you have to get your animals on the stage and do the trick at once, lest the manager and the public be discontented, then in my experience there is the gravest possible risk that there has been cruelty, not only in training the animal, but continuous cruelty in keeping the animal up to the mark for these—what may be called time performances. I could, I think, give some detailed examples of that, but I would rather not make examples which involve what I may call personal charges against individual trainers, but I do know of some things, which to my mind were so serious that I told one particular trainer that if he came back to London with his animal, I would have him prosecuted for gross cruelty. Those were the words of Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell.

The honorary director of the National Dog Owners' Association wrote me a week or two ago as follows: There have been complaints of cruelty to dogs in obedience competitions, particularly where dogs are continually and regularly in obedience tests: get stale; and are punished by a disappointed owner… This seems to me to be one of the points against performing animals. The best of well-trained dogs in the hands of experienced handlers very often have a stale patch, or an off-day. Yet the performing dog must be absolutely on top-line twice nightly. It seems a bit much to ask. There have been cases of recalcitrant animals in the ring who have been treated with cruelty when they have refused to do a particular trick. The Daily Mail of December 24 last (I have a cutting here if any of your Lordships wishes to see it) described how 2,000 children at a circus in Manchester saw a tussle between a terrified Russian bear and five men. For three minutes the men grappled with the bear, who refused to perform a cycling trick and tried to escape, and the act had to be brought to an end as the majority of the audience cried "Shame!" Another incident which took place at another provincial circus this Christmas was witnessed by one of the inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. I have his report here and I should like to quote a short extract from it. He says: Act 21 involves seven lionesses and one lion. Six of these animals, though obviously performing with the utmost reluctance, are in apparent good condition. The seventh, a lioness… is obviously terrified. The first act of this animal on entering the cage and taking its place was to pass a motion, and then made frantic attempts to squeeze a way between the bars of the cage, and had to be threatened with the trainer's stick and struck once to force it to perform the trick. The sight of a magnificent animal such as this being in terror of a human being is, to put it mildly, pitiful. On the completion of the 'act' the animals made a mad rush to get out through the exit.… If animals are treated like this in full view of the audience, one shudders to think of what they have to undergo when they are out of sight.

Quite apart from the questions of cruelty in training these animals and keeping them up to the mark, I think that animal performances are highly undesirable, as they are, in my view, an insult to nature. This is becoming increasingly so, as all types of animals are made to perform much more difficult and sensational acts. which are entirely alien to their nature. I have myself this Christmas seen a horse made to lie down while an elephant stepped over it. As your Lordships know, there is not much space between the front and back legs of an elephant, and the great beast got its feet over that wretched horse only with the greatest difficulty. I thought that the horse was absolutely terrified. I was glad to see that the act was later abandoned, because I think they had trouble with the elephant, but I thought a comment made in the Manchester Guardian this morning was very apt when it said: Critics of the existing legislation on cruelty to animals will want to know in to-days debate why a matter like this was allowed to go as far as it did. Then I have seen, also in a London circus, an elephant sitting in a jeep wearing an ostrich feather hat. It seems to me an odd way to amuse people by making a noble animal like this look ridiculous. One wonders what some future historian will think of the kind of civilisation which finds amusement in making bears ride motor-cycles, or bicycles 10 feet high—difficult enough for a human being—or the sight of a bear standing on a high stool wearing a frill round its neck and a dunce's hat on its head. In all these degrading acts noble animals are made to look foolish, and I have here photographs of all these acts, if any of your Lordships wishes to see them. I think this was the impression gained also by the circus critic of the Manchester Guardian, whose report in the issue of December 28 last on a well-known London circus read: The poor sad elephants, sitting on little red stools, and dancing grotesquely with frightened-looking girls, are obviously highly embarrassed by it all. These acts are degrading, but even more objectionable are those which are not only degrading but cruel as well—I refer particularly to the act where a lion or tiger is made to jump through a flaming hoop. As your Lordships know, animals are terrified of fire, and it must be a great ordeal for a lion or tiger to have to do this every night. I have here reports by the inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. describing details of such acts which took place last summer in two provincial circuses, and I have, also, a programme of another provincial circus which contains a photograph of this particular act. It seems to me a most repugnant way to treat a noble animal, particularly one such as the lion, which is the symbol of our great country. I understand that under the present law the R.S.P.C.A. are unable to prosecute. There is also the question of travelling conditions, which I am sure cause a great deal of indirect cruelty. Large carnivora, such as lions I and tigers, are kept in cages in which it is hardly possible for them to turn round. While on tour they are kept there for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time, and are let out only when they are in the ring. I myself have seen them in the menagerie of a well-known London circus, sometimes two lions in one cage little more than 6 feet long. The 1911 Act lays down no measurements, and hence it is difficult to prove cruelty, although in my view it is often apparent.

Dogs come in for particularly cruel conditions, because many of them are still in quarantine when they perform in this country. The law lays down that dogs in quarantine are permitted to perform provided that they do not leave the premises where the show takes place, except when they go, in travelling boxes, to the next place where they are to appear. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that animals such as dogs should go through their quarantine period first, before being allowed to perform, as at present they cannot be properly exercised and the only freedom they get is in the ring—a fact which is perfectly obvious from their happy demeanour when they perform. If a dog is kept for twenty-three hours in a cage, and let out only for a short time in the ring, it is bound to run around and wag its tail and give the impression of being extremely happy; and this suits the trainer down to the ground. Quite apart from the effect on the animals, I submit that these circus performances are bad for children and for their education. The present trend in education is to teach the child to appreciate and understand an animal in its surroundings, and this aim is vitiated by circus performances where an animal is made to do unnatural and degrading acts such as I have described. The incident of the bear in Manchester, which I described earlier to your Lordships, took place before 2,000 children. The National Association of Head Teachers are, I know, concerned about this matter, and one of their branches passed a resolution about it in 1943.

In view of what I have said, I consider that acts by performing animals should be forbidden in this country and an embargo placed on the importation of foreign-trained acts of this kind. I should be glad to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government how the Act of 1925 is working; what the Government are prepared to do to extend legislation, and whether they would be prepared to view with sympathy a Private Member's Bill. Many people in this country are becoming increasingly concerned about this highly undesirable traffic in these unfortunate dumb creatures, and I feel that the time has come for Great Britain to take a moral lead in this matter so that this blot on our civilisation may be removed. I beg to move.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the training and use of performing animals for exhibition and entertainment purposes.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to ask your Lordships' leave to introduce an Amendment to the Motion just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The Amendment is as follows: To leave out the words after "That" in the original Motion, and to insert the following words: this House recognises the high standard of humane treatment of performing animals maintained by exhibitors, but is nevertheless of the opinion that there should be an inquiry into the training and exhibition of such animals and into the present statutory provisions and administrative arrangements for their protection. I must first apologise to the House, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who will reply for the Government, for not giving your Lordships advance notice of this Amendment. The reason is this. As your Lordships are aware, it is sometimes difficult to collect a number of noble Lords to discuss Parliamentary Business, because they always have other occupations, and it is difficult to find one time which suits a number of them. My noble friends on these Benches were only able to meet this morning to discuss the Business for the current week, and therefore I was not in a position earlier to put down my Amendment. I am sorry that noble Lords have not had an opportunity to consider it in advance before this debate started.

As your Lordships will see, the object of my Amendment is to ask the Government for an inquiry into the matter that has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I am sure we are all glad that the noble Lord is carrying on his family tradition of concern for performing animals, and that he has given us this opportunity of discussing a subject of considerable public interest and importance. The noble Lord based his case largely on evidence of cruelty at home and abroad. For my part, I shall not try either to challenge or to confirm that evidence. But I do think the allegations he made were serious, and unless they can be refuted by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his reply, it seems to me that it is in the interests equally of the entertainment industry and of the British public that the truth should be known and that these allegations should either be substantiated or be refuted. That, in itself, I think, is a good reason for an impartial inquiry into the whole matter.

On the basis of my own limited experience in London, my inquiries have shown that in recent years the condition of performing animals—animals that have been shown at circuses and so on in London—seems to have been fairly satisfactory. There has been only one prosecution by the London County Council, which is the responsible authority in London, and that was an unsuccessful prosecution in the case of a lion which was used in what is called a "Wall of death" act. That is in itself convincing evidence that, in London at least, there has been little to complain of in the condition of these animals—and, of course, their mental and physical condition is the evidence of their treatment, I understand, during training as well as on show. I suppose it is for all of us to express our own personal views on a matter of this kind, and that if there is an inquiry, the merits of these different views will fall to be considered.

I would suggest to your Lordships that cruelty is not the only criterion that should be used to decide whether animals should be allowed to perform in public. I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has suggested, by implication at least, that there were other criteria. I should like to mention one of these other criteria. It seems to me that it would be undesirable to allow animals to perform in public if we are in fact forcing them to do something which is contrary to their nature. If this criterion is accepted, then a line might be drawn between domestic and other animals that are docile and easily taught, and wild animals that are by nature strong-willed and hostile to man. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, did not, I think, suggest that such a line should be drawn. He wanted to ban all performing animals. If this were done, I cannot help thinking—although he did not desire this result—that very few circuses would be able to carry on.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but was that not used as an argument by those who were in favour of retaining the slave trade?


I am not discussing the merits of the noble Lord's argument; I am discussing the social consequences. I was going on to say what I thought would be the attitude of public opinion, because, after all, in these matters public opinion is even more important than our own personal opinions. I do not know that I am the right person to assess public opinion—I think noble Lords opposite are in a far better position than I am—but I would venture to suggest that the public would like to have circuses but that they would not like to have circuses which involved cruelty to animals or even undue harshness, if the undue harshness were known about but was something rather less than cruelty as defined in an Act of Parliament. What I am suggesting is something which I think might be done without having a fatal effect on circuses—namely, that the use of certain animals, domestic animals, monkeys and wild animals that are easily trainable, should continue to be allowed, while the use of, say, lions, tigers and leopards, the wild members of the cat family, should be prohibited.

I do not know whether it is unwise to generalise on the domestic cat. I am not a zoologist, and therefore I speak subject to correction and certainly with all due deference. We all know the characteristics of the domestic cat and how different it is from the dog. I think we should describe the domestic cat as an obstinate, independent animal which easily reverts to the wild state. From "Selima, demurest of the tabby kind" who ended up, your Lordships will remember, in a bowl of goldfish, to "Tiger, tiger, burning bright" and "The cat that walked by itself," the wilfulness of the cat family has been often described by those who understand its nature. I doubt whether we can train these large wild cats, which are obviously opposed to our desires, without de-naturing them, without depriving them of their natural characteristics. In this way, they lose what is probably the most attractive quality about a wild animal—namely, the quality of being itself. Another point in this connection which certainly strikes any observer who has no inside knowledge, is that it must be difficult, if not impossible, to train these large wild animals of the cat family without a certain degree of harshness and severity—I would not, of course, say cruelty, by any means, but a degree of harshness and severity which must be undesirable both for the animal and the trainer. I think the methods that are used in training this type of animal should perhaps be examined particularly carefully, and ought to form part of an inquiry.

May I now pass on to the other part of my Amendment, which deals with an inquiry into the existing law relating to the protection of performing animals and its administration. Your Lordships will remember that the Act to control the training and exhibition of performing animals was passed as long ago as 1925. What I am suggesting is—and here I feel I am on fairly firm ground—that its operation should be reviewed by the Government, with, of course, the advice and assistance of the local authorities who administer it. This would enable the Government to decide what legislation and administrative changes are needed, if any, to bring the Act up to date and to make it really effective in carrying out the purpose for which it was designed by Parliament.

I should like to give one or two examples to show why the 1925 Act is either out of date or much less effective than it should be in detecting or preventing cruelty to performing animals. My first point is this. The definition of "exhibition" in Section 5 (1) of the Act is: an entertainment to which the public are admitted. The owners of animals that are not "exhibited" in this technical sense do not have to register with the local authority, and are therefore not subject to inspection and supervision as is the ordinary circus owner. In the 1920's, when this Act was passed, the film industry was in its infancy, and television, of course, did not even exist. Now, we have an adult film industry and two television programmes, the B.B.C. programme and a commercial programme—of course, we may have more in time to come. It is obviously just as necessary for local authorities to have the power to inspect performing animals when they are filmed or televised as when they do their turns before me public in a circus; but the making of a film or a television picture in a studio is not an entertainment within the meaning of the Act, because it is not an event to which the public are usually admitted. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whether he does not agree that this loophole in the Act should be stopped.

My next point relates to the administration of the 1925 Act. As your Lordships know, the Act is administered by local authorities. While circuses are performed in the towns, their training establishments are usually in the country—for example, there is no training of performing animals in London. It is, therefore, the rural authorities, the county councils, which are responsible for supervising the training of these animals, and it is during the training, as a rule, that the alleged harshness or cruelty occurs. We are all aware that many of the county councils are too poor to afford a large and highly specialised staff. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is to reply is satisfied that the county councils are, in fact, exercising. their powers, and are employing officers with the right qualifications. Much as I respect the police, I do not consider that a police officer has the right qualifications for this purpose. If the noble Lord opposite is not certain that these powers are being satisfactorily exercised at the moment, surely this is a matter for inquiry. That is another reason for asking that an inquiry should be undertaken.

There is a further point in relation to administration and this power of inspection. Inspectors from the local authorities are allowed to visit training establishments of performing animals, and to see circus animals at a circus during the hours that no performance is being given; but during a public performance, officers of local authorities are expressly forbidden, by the terms of the Act, not only to go on to the stage or into the ring (that seems reasonable enough, because, obviously, if they did they would interfere with the performance) but also to go behind the stage where they could see the animals waiting to go on. I am told by certain inspectors whom I have consulted that they consider essential, if they are to do their job properly, that they should be able to go behind the scenes and see the animals before they are brought into the ring or on to the stage. I understand that they usually do this by agreement with the management, and the circus management, as a rule, is perfectly willing to allow them to go in when they ask to do so. But if a circus manager wanted to avoid inspection during a show he would he entirely within his rights in refusing the inspector access, although it would be in circumstances of that kind that inspection would be particularly desirable. There again there is something which shows that the Act is not working quite so satisfactorily as was expected.

My last point in this connection relates to the size of travelling cages, a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. These circuses tour the country with their animals, going from town to town, and the animals have to make long journeys by road or rail. It is obvious that their cages must necessarily be fairly small, as otherwise they could not be carried on a lorry by road, or in a railway van. In the case of the larger animals, travelling for long distances in these conditions, there is real danger that the cages may be too small to allow the normal movements of the limbs and body. I heard of one case in London in which a lion was unable to stand up in its cage. Whilst I realise that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prescribe the minimum size for these travelling cages, because they vary according to the size of the animal, I think they should at least be large enough to allow the animal or animals which they contain to stand upright. I would suggest to the noble Lord opposite that, in consultation with advisers, he might find some ingenious formula which would meet that point.

Those are a few matters, which are bound to concern us all, which I have been able to add to the matters which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, thought should be considered. I agree with what I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will say—namely, that public opinion is all-important in this field; but surely the difficulty of public opinion at the moment is that people do not know the facts. We need to establish the facts. On the one hand, there are the sentimentalists (if I may so call them) who are apt to exaggerate everything in favour of the animals; on the other, there are the entertainment interests which naturally wish us to be satisfied with things as they are at the present time. Surely the exaggerations that take place on both sides can be removed only by an impartial inquiry which will ascertain facts and enable the public to form a really well-informed judgment about the methods used in training animals and showing them to the public.

All I am asking the noble Lord opposite to do is to accept the principle of an inquiry. An inquiry may take many forms, and I am not asking the noble Lord to commit himself at the moment to any particular form—it might be a departmental inquiry, it might be a Select Committee of Parliament, or it might be a Royal Commission. I remember serving on a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiring into cruelty to wild birds. That is one method that has been used in the past. I should not like even to recommend any particular method at the moment. All I ask is that the noble Lord will consider—I hope favourably—the desirability of having an impartial, objective, unprejudiced inquiry, which would enable both us and the public to form a really valid judgment about the problems raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, this afternoon. I beg to move my Amendment.

Amendment moved,

Leave out all words after "That" and insert: "this House recognises the high standard of humane treatment of performing animals maintained by exhibitors, but is nevertheless of the opinion that there should be an inquiry into the training and exhibition of such animals and into the present statutory provisions and administrative arrangements for their protection."—(The Earl of Listowel.)

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I will do my best to follow the excellent tradition of your Lordships' House by treating the matter in hand in a detached and impersonal way, though I must confess I am not going to find it easy. We as a nation are not lovers of cruelty; nor, I think, have we any sadistic tendencies. But we do suffer a great deal from one characteristic which is a great barrier to any advance in humanitarianism, and that is indifference. There is a far too widespread tendency to refuse to believe in facts if they are unpalatable or if they are going to make things difficult for one. A typical example of this was shown to me when I spoke to a friend of mine, an eminent man in his own way, apropos of the shipping of horses from Ireland and the conditions in which they travel. His attitude was, obviously, that I was only one of those nonsensical people who make a lot of fuss about nothing, and who are always imagining cruelty where there is none. I asked him whether he would believe me if I were to show him a photograph, and his answer was "Of course not: a photograph can be easily faked." I have no doubt that if I had offered to take him to the scene and show it to him for himself, he would have discovered some reason why no suffering was involved. It is that mentality that is our chief obstacle. One can only go on raising the question until our constant drops of water have worn away this stone of indifference.

I would remind your Lordships of the difference which exists between the system of law in this country and that in France. Under our law, a man is innocent until he is proved guilty; under the French law, he is guilty until he is proved innocent. No doubt ours is the better way; but in cases which involve cruelty and suffering there is a good deal to be said for the other—for there is no doubt in my mind that no circus trainer would be able to prove his innocence. I should like to say quite firmly, before I go any further, that I am not a sentimentalist; I am under no delusion that the feelings of animals are akin to ours. Fond though I may be of my dog, I suffer from no conviction that he understands every word I say to him. But I hold most strongly that animals have feelings, and anybody who has studied them at all will realise that they are capable of feeling three sensations—fear, pain and hunger. These are the three chief weapons in the hands of so-called animal trainers.

A great deal has been said about the training of performing animals—that they can be trained only by kindness; that cruelty would never make a wild animal fond of his trainer; that they are obviously fond of their trainers; that they apparently enjoy their performance and so on. My Lords, I do not believe one word of this; and nor would anyone who has gone into the question thoroughly. In fact, an experienced circus trainer has admitted that fear is the only method by which a man can train a wild animal. He said that that is why animals born in captivity are useless for this purpose: because they are used to men, they do not fear them. Surely the mere keeping of wild creatures in narrow cages, where they can scarcely move, and where they are in a perpetual state of terror, is enough. But this is by no means all. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi has quoted the evidence of the two representatives of the Swedish magazine. I too have read that article, and I confess that I read it with horror. If such methods as those which he quoted are used for dogs, what must be the ones employed for wilder and mere savage animals? It makes one start thinking when one reads from a report mace in another place that a lion was kept for five days without food or drink during training with trident and whip.

Hunger, fear and pain are, as I said, the three most important weapons in the hands of trainers. I have read an account by an actual eye witness of the training of wild elephants. I confess that I had to force myself to read it to the end, it was so revolting. One must remember, of course, that nine-tenths of the so-called training of elephants takes place in the jungle, where no-one sees it. This man did, and recounted in full what he saw. No doubt many people will ask me whether I believe everything that I read. I assure them that I do not. But there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of this account; it was given by a man who had himself previously hunted elephants. He was no sentimentalist, and he described every detail with meticulous care. The process of so-called training which he described was so appalling that it made him feel that he could never visit a circus again.

We who are interested in humanitarian affairs are used to having our words dismissed with contempt—it has been so all through the centuries. I have no doubt that those who advocated the abolition of bear-baiting and cock fighting were treated in a similar manner, and regarded by the vast majority as "cranks" and sentimentalists. The same probably applied to the use of children in the mines: I have no doubt that there was a large school of thought which held firmly to the view that the child enjoyed it. Yet, little by little, public opinion has become more enlightened. Let us hope that it will eventually conic to see the horror which is involved in the training of performing animals—and I include performing animals of all sorts, not merely wild ones, since, as Lord Strabolgi pointed out, performing animals in a circus have to perform to the minute and can therefore be trained, not as a domestic animal is trained, to do a little trick, but only by the most strict and often painful discipline. There is an increasing campaign in this country against injustice. Surely this is one of the grossest forms of it.

I should like just to put one point to those noble Lords who do not agree with what I am saying. I think that they will all agree that one of the most despicable of human characters is the bully. How shall we define a bully? Surely he is one who, by his own strength, for his own objects, subjects others who are weaker than himself. Any animal, however physically powerful, is always weaker than a man because of its lesser powers. We have long looked upon warfare as something to be avoided, but that at least is man fighting his equal; and horrible though it may be, it often brings out the noblest traits of man. But the torture—and from the evidence I have seen I can assure your Lordships that it is nothing less—of defenceless animals to provide us with amusement has, in my opinion, no quality that should not be met with the heartiest condemnation. Finally, do not let us be misled by circulars such as the one which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi has mentioned, which I believe has been circulated this morning, inviting inspection. One must remember that circuses in this country largely use imported animals that have been trained abroad, sometimes in the heart of the jungle, where no one can find them, and it seems to me that the only way to prevent cruelty to performing animals in this country is to make illegal the import of performing animals of any kind.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, as in this Motion great moral principles are clearly involved, it seems right that somebody from this section of the House should say something, although I do not find my task easy. I find myself in large measure in agreement with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the earlier part of his speech, but I profoundly disagree with the conclusion he reached. I felt myself much in sympathy with part of the Resolution as originally moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, but not really in favour of the arguments he adduced for it. Several different issues are involved. First, there is the question of cruelty. Every one of us agrees that cruelty of any kind is revolting to any decent-minded person; and when cruelty is shown to animals it becomes more contemptible and utterly beastly. The issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is, however, an issue of fact: does the performance and exhibition of performing animals necessarily include cruelty? On that issue it seems that the only answer we can give is that we do not know. Obviously, animal trainers are of different kinds, and I have not the least doubt that there have been animal trainers who have used brutal and cruel training methods. But that does not prove that cruelty is a necessary part of such training. As most of these animals are trained abroad it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to know the actual facts.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, quoted a book recently written by an animal trainer. The reminiscences of an animal trainer would surely be incredibly dull if they did not include certain stories of danger and hairbreadth escapes. I do not say that the account he gives of his methods is untrue; I only say that I do not know. What little knowledge we have of the training of animals—the training of sporting dogs and the schooling of horses—suggests that though cruelty may be involved, one is much more likely to get results by kindness and affection than by any form of cruelty. That may not be true with wild beasts. It is along those lines that I largely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. No doubt when one is trying to train a really wild animal there must be a stick and a whip for one's protection, which means that, at least on occasions, they will be used when a desperate moment comes. Does the use of these things at a desperate moment constitute cruelty? The answer given behind me is, "Yes." I do not know, but I am not sure that it would be so classed. I very well recollect being photographed by the Press with my hand resting on the head of a circus lion and I cannot imagine that that amazingly docile creature had ever been subjected to cruelty.

On the other hand, I am sure that quite apart from acts of cruelty, the conditions in which circus animals live amount to something that can rightly be called cruelty, although of quite a different kind. I am sure that what the noble Lord said about travelling cages in menageries going round the country is quite true, and that animals cooped up in too narrow boxes, without proper protection from changes of weather, must suffer in a way in which none of us would wish them to suffer.

I think it is quite revolting that wild animals should be taken from their right abode and kept in captivity in order to be exhibited and made to do unnatural things for the entertainment of men and women; and when one adds the entertainment of children, one makes the whole practice more horrible and more entirely unjustified. The exhibition they give, if it is to have any force, must be terrifying, certainly to children; and surely, in any case, it is degrading to those who look at it. I would that a distinction might be drawn between wild and domesticated animals, because I recollect seeing performances by dogs which seemed to revel in what they were doing and to enjoy their whole performance. Some of your Lordships, like myself, are old enough to remember performing pigs. With what joy they set about doing their counting and their playing of cards! I do not know whether they were trained by cruelty but I hardly think so. I think it is possible they preferred that kind of life to being turned into sausages. But no doubt it is true that cruelty might be employed against dogs and horses and, therefore, I do not know whether a dividing line can be drawn.

I should like to rouse the whole conscience of the country to a conviction that this subjection of wild animals to unnatural performances should be stopped, as being contrary to all that is most decent in us. I should like, if I could, to encourage the training of more domestic animals, for their joy and ours. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in introducing his Motion, had restricted himself to that aspect of the matter. I cannot agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that there is a case for a public inquiry. I find it very difficult to believe that any inquiring body set up would get the truth. It is a difficult matter to inquire into. I should rather we seized the thistle and said: "No more shall this kind of thing be allowed by the laws of England."

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, I count myself fortunate in following the right reverend Prelate, and I am particularly grateful to him for what he has said about the wild animals, because they will be the burden of the few words I address to your Lordships this evening. I find myself in a little difficulty over this Amendment which has suddenly been thrown at our heads. I quite accept what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says, that he had not the time to inform those of us who were interested of his Amendment; but we have not even a copy of the Amendment in front of us—I am not very good, I am afraid, at listening to the spoken word. What I am sure about is that I am opposed to the idea of an inquiry. Inquiries take time—not months, but very often years. I think this is a time for acting with regard to this particular subject.

I would suggest that in the case of wild animals, the cruelty starts at a much earlier stage than that which we have, in the main, been discussing—though it has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and by the right reverend Prelate. The cruelty starts, first, in the circumstances of their capture and, secondly, in their incarceration and subsequent transport from their native haunts to the scene of their training and exhibition. With regard to their capture, many of your Lordships will have read at different times of the methods employed. It is unedifying reading. Great suffering is inflicted, generally by natives with little imagination, and perhaps less sympathy. A professional trapper once told me of the number of lives which sometimes have to be sacrificed in achieving the capture of one desired specimen. And then that one desired specimen, obtained with the expenditure of much heartbreaking blood and suffering, might die en route, and the whole foul performance has to be gone through again.

I have no wish or intention of harrowing your Lordships with details of the horrors which are perpetrated. Anyone interested can find them all in a book—I daresay in a great many books—a book called Catching Wild Animals Alive, by Joseph Delmont. After their capture comes their confinement and, following their confinement, their transport. And then what? A few years ago, when travelling in Malaya, I was taken to see three six-months-old tigers recently caught, each incarcerated in a box measuring some six feet by four feet. The month was February. They were riot due to be moved until April. In those boxes they were destined to live and eventually to travel to England. About mid-May at earliest they might, if they survived, be released from their appallingly cramped quarters and be placed in a cage for the rest of their lives. And these are God's creatures, my Lords. In the event—for I followed up this case—one of these unfortunate animals died on the voyage, a second died on arrival in this country, and the third survived. So much for the capture and transport of jungle beasts.

There may be arguments in favour of the retention of zoos, although I personally repudiate them. But what can be said in justification of what I call those "diabolical institutions," the travelling menageries? Kept in the closest confinement, the wretched animals are let out once or twice a day, not to have fun and health-giving exercise but for the performance of some unnatural trick or absurd antic in the ring, to pander to the crude appetites and emotionalism of a thrill-seeking crowd. Surely such exhibitions should no longer be tolerated and should be prohibited by law.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has spoken of the indignity of noble animals being subjected to the buffoonery of the circus and the menagerie. How profoundly I agree with him! If humans wish to act as clowns, and risk their necks and limbs in the exhibition of their skill and daring on trapeze and tightrope, well, good luck to them! They do it of their own free will and, no doubt, they get very well paid for it—at least I hope they do. But for pity's sake! eliminate animals, and particularly the wild animals that I have been referring to, from these spectacles.

There will always be those diehards and such like who will come along trotting out all the old clichés and arguments about spoilsports; descanting on the educational value to the young of seeing in the flesh animals from the wilds—and "Don't interfere with the children's fun." The retort to them is a simple one. The great advance in photography and the really remarkable nature films which can now be seen at the cinema provide for all the needs of education in the matter of wild life. No doubt many of your Lordships have seen such entrancing pictures as The Vanishing Prairie, The Living Desert, and an equally well-known one about seals—called, I think, Seal Island. There is another one showing beavers—all these films are by Walt Disney. Incidentally, and slightly irrelevantly perhaps, if your Lordships will forgive me, it is remarkable to what extent the camera has to-day replaced the rifle, and how many erstwhile hunters prefer to watch and photograph wild game to securing trophies of the chase.

As to the "Don't interfere with the children's fun" brigade, the circus can provide all the fun of the fair, with its clowns and gymnasts and artistes of all sorts, without the nauseating participation of wild animals, which ought never to have been removed from their natural habitats. Study the attitude in the ring of these big cats and other animals of the jungle. There is nothing but loathing and contempt, and, worst of all, a glowering fear of their human tormentors. Surely, my Lords, it all boils down to this: what right have we humans to deprive animals of their freedom? Are they not just as much entitled to their liberty as we are? We are all God's creatures, all entitled to a dignified and free existence. Less than 200 years ago, people used to go and gape at the lunatics at Bedlam Hospital, as entertainment—I seem to remember a Hogarth picture depicting the scene. We have grown out of, and progressed beyond, that squalid form of inhuman entertainment. Has not the time come for us to acknowledge the rights of the animal kingdom and cease to exploit it for man's amusement? Above all, I plead for the wild animals in captivity, and particularly for those sentenced, through no fault of their own, to imprisonment in the cages and boxes of a travelling circus, condemned to exist in darkness or artificial light, deprived of fresh air, sunshine and exercise—relegated, miserably, to a living death.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I want to support briefly the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who initiated this Motion. It has always seemed to me strange that this country which on the whole is so concerned with animal welfare—outstandingly so among the countries of Europe—should be relatively indifferent to the question of performing animals in circuses. I think the reason is that people do not know much about it, as has already been suggested this afternoon. When people see a lion being perfectly docile, as when the right reverend Prelate put his hand on its head, in the story he told us, they say, "How nice!", without realising what has gone on behind the scenes first. Though I do not speak from expert knowledge, but merely from what I have been told by people whom I have asked about it. I have absolutely no doubt that there must be cruelty in the training of wild animals. I do not think that there is so much cruelty in this country, where the big circuses probably make great efforts to try to keep their animals in good condition. Where the trouble lies, as the noble Lord, Lord Som̃ers, said, is in the capturing of these animals and in their initial training. I have been told by an animal trainer that in order to train satisfactorily a savage animal, such as a tiger or an elephant, its spirit must be broken completely. Until its spirit is absolutely broken, you cannot do a thing with it. The breaking of an animal's spirit may take weeks, and the only way of doing it is through fear and pain, hunger and thirst—and all these are used.

I have here a copy of an old book by Jack London, who spent some years of his life in circus training, describing the training of a tiger. It is called Michael, Brother of Jerry. It is an old book, but I do not think conditions have changed very much since the days in which that book was written. It describes what we are up against. If, in this country, we tolerate and encourage performing animals and circuses, we at the same time tolerate and encourage the demand for these animals to be trained and brought from abroad. I am afraid that the only possible way of slopping the demand is to prohibit completely performing animals in this country.

I disagree with those noble Lords who think there is less cruelty in training domestic animals than in training wild ones. In some cases there is more cruelty, because, for instance, a dog, which is a very tractable animal to handle, is very intelligent and possibly feels the treatment given to him far more than the elephant or tiger. If any noble Lords have tried to train their own dogs they will find it easy to train a dog to do the things he is used to doing. You can easily train a retriever to retrieve or, with a little patience and care, any dog to sit up and beg for a lump of sugar, but try and train a dog to walk about on his front paws and you will soon learn that no degree of kindness can do it. Only a very cruel method will do that—by tying up an animal's hind legs until it is so painful that aai support is welcomed and there is gradually inculcated into the animal the willingness to do this absurd antic. Dogs are often kept in deplorable conditions in little kennels, almost like rabbit-hutches, so chat when people go a performance and see the dogs rushing out wagging their tails and apparently delighted, they do not realise that what the dogs are delighted about is that for a brief interval they have escaped out of the narrow hutches and are delighted to be free, even if to do a trick, for which they might get a bit of food.

I do not want to go on harrowing your Lordships with terrible stories of cruelty to animals. But there is one fact of interest which was brought to my notice a few days ago. There is an institution called The Performing Animals Defence League which for a long time has offered £1,000 to any person who under their supervision succeeds in training without cruelty any untrained animal, whether dog, lion, seal, et cetera, to perform on demand any circus or music hall trick. That offer has never been taken up. Even in these days £1,000 is a large sum of money to have, and the winning of it would have the advantage to the circus community that they could say that the offer had been accepted and won; that they had trained the tiger to do tricks by kindness. But apparently no one has ever dared to take on this offer. I think that is an indication of the difficulty, or rather impossibility, of teaching tricks without cruelty. I should like to reinforce what has been said about the conditions in which performing animals are kept, not so much in the big circuses but in the little travelling circuses and menageries, in which at times conditions are appalling.

Now I think we have to consider the objections to the banning of animal performances. Of course there is a big vested interest behind these performances. There are a great many people who make their living by therm—trainers of animals, the owners, the advertisers and the owners of I halls and circus grounds, all of whom are naturally anxious that animal performances should continue. To alleviate hardship to these people if prohibition were enforced, I suggest that a term of years, perhaps five, could be laid down in which performances would be allowed to continue, but at the end of this time future performances would be banned. I would also suggest that it would be fair to arrange to give compensation to registered owners of performing animals who were registered at the date of any such enactment and were willing, voluntarily to give up their animals. Relatively the amount of compensation would not be wry great and it would help to prevent what might otherwise be an injustice and a hardship. But whatever the hardship is, I do not think the immense amount of suffering created by this animal teaching and training could for one moment justify allowing what is now going on.

I should like to deal shortly with the Amendment, although it is difficult to study an Amendment so unexpectedly moved. However, I took a note of it, and I hope I have taken it down accurately. My disagreement with it is that it says, that this House recognises the high standard of humane treatment of performing animals maintained by exhibitors … Surely, it is pre-judging an inquiry for the House to pass such a Motion. It may well be that some maintain high standards and some do not. I think it would be better if the noble Earl would omit that sentence, as it would be pre-judging an inquiry. In any event, however, if I had to choose, I should prefer to see the noble Lord who introduced this Motion introducing a Bill, because I think an inquiry would take a long time and would postpone the whole issue for so long that this terrible cruelty that is going on would not be remedied for years. If the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government could indicate some sympathy on their part, I earnestly hope that a Private Member's Bill will be introduced, and in that case I feel sure that many noble Lords will support it.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I feel it only right that before I begin my speech I should declare some slight interest in this matter, in that I am a director of a company which sells seats for circuses during the Christmas period. Having declared that interest, I want to declare a very real, and I hope knowledgeable, interest in the circus, and one which I have had for many years. When I go to the circus I do not just go straight home; I go round behind and I meet my friends who train the animals. My wife and I ask where a certain horse is this year, and why it is not in the act we ask who is training the elephants this year, and why. We know these animals; we know the men who train them, and they are our friends, We are not the only people who do this; many hundreds, and indeed thousands, of others do it, both in London and on tour. There is no restriction whatever on any of us who love the circus going round and seeing what is happening. It is because I have some first-hand knowledge of the circus that I am speaking to-day, and I hope to be able to refute some of the things that have been said by previous speakers, because some of them—I must speak bluntly—are arrant nonsense.

There has been a lot of talk about these animals being broken abroad and then coming here to be properly trained, so that cruelty here is unnecessary. But that simply is not true. Every single animal in the three largest circuses in this country that has been trained in this country (there are, of course, imported acts, and I will deal with those in a moment) was either born in captivity or brought here as a cub. Even the elephants are brought here at about five or six years of age, which for an elephant is very young. So it is not true to say that these animals have been broken and subjected to cruelty abroad. They have come here as youngsters, and from the word "Go" have been trained in this country. In my opinion, it is impossible that cruelty could have been used, because there would have been prosecutions under the admirable legislation, the Performing Animals (Registration) Act, 1925, which is on the Statute Book to deal with that kind of thing. There is no unreasonable restriction on inspection at circuses and in training quarters. The R.S.P.C.A. inspectors in London have season tickets, and so have the London County Council control officers.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but will he say whether the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors have tickets to visit the training quarters, as opposed to the circus?


I am coming to training quarters, but at the moment I am dealing with the circus itself. These animals that are trained from the word "Go" in this country include chimpanzees, elephants, lions, tigers and large numbers of horses. It has been suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that there should be an inquiry. I venture to ask: what is the inquiry to be about? There have been hardly any cases of prosecution for cruelty under the perfectly adequate existing law. Most of the incidents that have been quoted to-day go back over many years, and I suppose that anybody, if he wanted to go back fifty years or so, could collect large numbers of incidents of cruelty in different parts of the world. The society concerned have been at pains to collect these incidents, and the fact that they are twenty or thirty years old is not at first sight obvious.

It seems to me that one of the main facts on which these allegations are made is that all this cruelty takes place behind locked doors. Well, the training camps of all the circuses in this country are well known, and anybody can find out their locations, because they are published in the trade papers. Noble Lords have already received an invitation to visit one of these camps, and I am sure they will be welcome at any time. The appropriate local authorities have power under the existing legislation to visit these training camps and to see for themselves. When a circus is on tour, there cannot be any locked doors, because the camp is in an open field. In addition, there are many hundreds of people connected with the circus besides animal trainers—girls in the box office, porters, mechanics, truck drivers and so on, and I am certain that none of those would stand for cases of gross cruelty if any took place.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me about the training camps. I have been to one of these training camps on many occasions. It is extremely well conducted; it is spotlessly clean, and the animals are obviously in the best of condition. I have been given opportunities of photographing the lions—they were posed specially for me. I have taken down all the boys from my son's "prep." school to spend a day at this training camp, because, in spite of what the noble Lord has said, I think it is good education for these boys to see this training going on.


May I interrupt the noble Lord again? I was not referring to the noble Lord's visit to the training camp, but to whether the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors are given permission to visit these training camps. The noble Lord mentioned that they were given permission to visit the circus, but it is about the training camps that I was asking him in connection with the R.S.P.C.A.


I am certain they would be given permission if they asked for it.


I am informed by the R.S.P.C.A. that they have not been given permission, although they have repeatedly applied.


My information is different from that of the noble Lord.

The other main criticism which has been made is that animal acts are brought over from abroad having been trained under conditions in which cruelty is used, but that when they come here the cruelty ceases because we would not stand for it, and the act goes on. Much play has been made with regard to a training camp in Denmark, where gross cruelty has been alleged. I am informed that the Danish circus owner who runs this training camp brought an action in the Danish courts against the writer of the article to which the noble Lord has referred and received substantial damages from the writer. It does not look as though the article was particularly accurate. As I have said, your Lordships have received an invitation from a certain circus to visit their training camp. I hope you will accept it. I believe that you will have an interesting and a profitable time, and I believe that you will come away convinced, if indeed you then need convincing, that the charges made, mainly, I think, under the auspices of the Animal Defence League, are completely baseless and unfounded.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intervening for a few moments at this stage of the debate. I wanted to do so particularly because, in my view, the noble Lord who introduced this Motion deserves the thanks of the community for the public-spirited action which he has shown in doing so. In saying that, I admit that this matter is controversial—of course it is. But there is no harm, surely, in these centroversial subjects, which are, after all, day-to-day topics, being discussed by your Lordships' House. Therefore I should like to say that he deserves credit for introducing it, whether we agree with him or not. I, for one, agree with him very strongly, and I cordially support the Motion which he has introduced. I have considered whether I ought to support also the Amendment which was introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It seems to me, as one other speaker has pointed out, that the defect in the Amendment is that while it asks for a full and impartial inquiry into the whole matter it pre-judges the issue in the first few words. If the noble Earl would leave out the first few words, I am sure the House would be much more amicably disposed towards the remainder of the Amendment, although I am not saying I should necessarily support it, because I am not sure what would be gained by a further inquiry.

If I may say so with the utmost respect to the right reverend Prelate, I was particularly struck by his speech. It seemed to me to be a most statesmanlike approach to this problem, and I would agree with him that, whatever we think about this matter, there may be a striking difference between the training of wild animals and the training of domestic animals. The right reverend Prelate drew a sharp distinction between those two, and I venture to think that that is a profitable way of looking at this problem. While it may well be possible to train domestic animals without cruelty—I do not know—I am satisfied that a great deal of cruelty goes on in the training of wild animals. Even if that were not so, which I do not admit, then it still seems to me to be nothing less than barbarous to bring really wild animals from their native haunts overseas, many of them from tropical climates, to this country, put them in cages, many of which are far too small, and parade them round the country to take part in circuses. That seems to me to be an utterly barbarous practice, and I am convinced that in generations to come it will be looked back upon in much the same way as we look back upon certain Roman spectacles that we read of in history.

Much has been said about an invitation which your Lordships have received to go, I think, to Ascot, to see how animals are trained. When I receive my copy, as I hope to do shortly, I am tempted to ask whether they would agree to inpectors of the R.S.P.C.A. going there to see it, because those inspectors are reasonable people who can be trusted not to report mendaciously but, on the other hand, do know what to look for in this matter, whereas, if I may say so, with respect, some of your Lordships may not. If those inspectors are admitted, well and good. If not, why not?

There is one more point I should like to deal with, and that is the interruption which I heard by the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, during the first speech in the debate. It was a short one, but I noticed it because it seemed to suggest that your Lordships' House should have nothing to do with, and need not concern itself about, the training of these animals, if it takes place overseas. If that was the noble Lord's intention, I really cannot follow him at all. If the idea is that training overseas has nothing to do with us, surely that is something which cannot stand. If training overseas is cruel—though we may not be able to stop it—then the remedy is not to go and see animals which have been trained overseas. That is a line which people in this country can take. If the noble Lord intended what appeared to me to be intended—I was not quite sure whether he did—surely that will not hold water. This question of training overseas is one of the more important factors of this controversy. It is said that many animals, even wild animals, are trained without cruelty—so it is said. But it remains, I believe, a fact—though I am not prepared to prove it; I doubt whether anybody can—that a great deal of cruelty goes on in training performing animals overseas. Why are these animals trained overseas for performance in this country? If there is some reason which is harmless, I hope we shall be told of it. If not, why is it? Of course, it is open to suspicion: it is open to the suspicion that the reason why they are trained overseas is to escape the vigilance of inspectors and others in this country. If there is some other more harmless reason, let us be told of it. I strongly support this Motion, and I hope and think it will do much good.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, I want to take up only a short amount of your Lordships' time, but first I should like to say that I strongly support the Motion which has been moved so well by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. I would rather support the Motion that he has moved than the Amendment which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, produced, because I do not think we shall get much further by more inquiries. We have had many inquiries in the past, and I do not think we shall get any further by having another one.

I do not want to repeat all the arguments which have already been used, but I do support as strongly as I can the ones which have given evidence of cruelty. I should like to emphasise two points, one of which is the cruelty performed in transporting these animals from place to place —I do not mean necessarily in the case of the big circuses, where I think much of that is done as kindly as possible; but one sees little travelling circuses and menageries going round the country, and the animals seem to me, at any rate, to be tied up in uncomfortable quarters where there is hardly enough room for them to move or take exercise. Passing from that, I would point out that when they come to perform, not necessarily in a circus tent but in a theatre or possibly in a music hall, the accommodation provided can be very sketchy. It may be very bad indeed. One knows that the accommodation for the actors themselves in some of the not-so-well-known theatres is not very good, and one can imagine, therefore, what the accommodation for the animals is like. They may be kept there for, I believe, more than one night, if there are performances lasting a week or so. Those are the two points regarding cruelty that I want to emphasise.

A third point is that people have said, not in your Lordships' debate but elsewhere, that a certain amount of hardship would be caused if performing animal shows were stopped, because that would lead to a considerable amount of unemployment among people involved in training them, who might, possibly justifiably, require to be compensated. I do not think that is a very big point, because the greater proportion of people who show animals in this country are foreigners who come over on short visits. The number of people involved in this trade who are British subjects could be absorbed by the entertainment trade in general with no particular difficulty. I do not want anyone to think that, in supporting this Motion, I wish to cause widespread unemployment among people who are taking part in a rather unfortunate profession.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, in supporting this Motion, I am reminded of the dictum of a wise judge who once said that if there were no "fences" there would be no thieves. If there were no circus proprietors who imported animals, there would be no animals to import. That is rather away from what I meant to start with. I do not propose to go over any of the ground covered by noble Lords who have so amply dealt with most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. There is, however, one aspect of the matter that has not been alluded to: namely, the frequency of attacks on their trainers, and even on members of the public, by these so-called tame animals. The R.S.P.C.A. have kept records over the past twelve years of all well-authenticated eases of such attacks, or where circus animals have caused danger to the public, of which I propose to quote only three. My first example occurred at Washington where a gorilla and a full-grown panther fought for more than two hours. The battle began when the panther broke down the door separating the two cages. It ended when the panther tore off the right arm of the gorilla, and the gorilla was shot. That is just a bald account of what happened.

The next case, which is much nearer home, occurred at Evesham. Here, an Indian lion tamer was mauled by lions. One lion dragged him into a box where there were two lionesses, and a violent struggle ensued before the man was got out. The whole of this performance took place before the audience, which contained many children. The tamer died in hospital—a truly edifying performance for the children in the audience! My last example is a small one. It occurred at Bertram Mills's Circus in 1955. The keeper of five tigers was clawed by what he called his tamest tiger. It was lucky for him that the tiger only got him with one claw; otherwise, if it had got him with two claws, it might have killed him or chewed his arm off. That just shows that these animals are not tamed by kindness.


My Lords, while taking part in this interesting debate, I do not agree with a good many of the speakers. In my view, this is one of those matters of discussion which ought to be referred at the present time to an outside authority for a careful examination, as suggested in the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, so that we may get the whole matter up to date. It is a long time since there has been an inquiry of that—what I may call—senior status. That ought to be done now. My chief acquaintance with wild animals is with horses. I do not think that some of the treatment given by people who ride horses would outrage a good many people in this country, especially as now the riding of horses is not so frequent as it used to be. As a matter of fact, a certain amount of brusque treatment of horses is not something which can be described as cruelty, and I hope that it will not be so described in the future. I believe that we should do well to have an inquiry on the lines suggested by the noble Earl, because that would give us an opportunity of looking over the situation, which it is not easy to survey as a whole.

I do not suppose anybody here would be prepared to say that people of the status of Bertram Mills and so forth are sadistic and cruel; I am sure they are not; and there are not many other circus proprietors and entertainers who use large numbers of animals. I do not suppose they are cruel. They are carrying on the traditions which have been laid down in the past. But, for my own part, it would be desirable to know now, at this time in this year, or in about a year's time from now, the condition of this particular industry, before we come to a definite decision on what to do about abolishing it, permitting it or limiting it, as the case may be. This House might exercise a valuable function in considering that aspect. It is not a matter which concerns active politics in the ordinary sense, but it is a matter of great importance, from the national point of view, that we should behave properly towards the animal creation. I believe that the appointment of a Commission, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would be the best method of dealing with this problem.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my purpose to repeat the details of the case for the circus animals which has been so clearly and cogently put before your Lordships by the originator of the debate and by the noble Lords who have followed him, but it is my wish to draw attention to some little known or little considered aspects of the subject now under debate. We English people pride ourselves upon being a nation of animal lovers, and we tend to be righteously critical of the lower standards of other nations. In point of fact, as a nation we are not animal lovers: we are sentimentalists about our animals. It is true that we cherish our domestic pets and that we have qualms about the condition of old and worn-out horses; but where the interests of animals run counter to our sports, our amusements or our pockets, the animals receive scant consideration at our hands.

I may instance, as examples of the general callousness of the nation towards animals' suffering, the hunting field, the coursing ground, the slaughterhouse, the vivisection laboratory, the drug factory, the hen battery, the gin-trap, and the circus, which is the subject of this debate. For this state of affairs I think that our religious training is largely responsible. Cruelties are perpetrated on animals without official protest from the various religious authorities—cruelties which would evoke the sternest condemnations if they were perpetrated on human beings. Animals have not souls, is the teaching; animals do not survive death. Of course a considerable section of the nation does not believe that human beings survive death, at any rate in a conscious condition, and it would be a hard task to convince such people that animals survive death, that there is but one life and that all life is eternal. Life cannot be annihilated, it can only be made to change its form.

It seems strange to me to think that 5,000 years ago the ancient mysteries were withheld from the people and were confined to the priests and Pharaohs, whereas now, when they are available to all who make the effort to seek them, almost none is interested. The ancient wisdom teaches that there is but one life which, in one form or another, suffuses all created things; but the life chain passes from the mineral through the vegetable and the animal to the human, and thence through the angelic back to the ultimate source from which it originated. The evidence for the conscious survival of physical death by animals is quite as good in quality, if not so great in quantity, as that for human survival. I speak of what I know. The higher animals who are quite close to the human stage in cosmic time are brought into contact with human beings before making the change, and it is our duty to help them up the ladder of evolution by wise and kindly treatment. If, by some magical process, it could be made clear to the leaders of nations how many of the disasters, calamities and diseases which afflict mankind are directly due to man's cruel and selfish exploitation of the animal kingdom, man would, in his own interest, take immediate steps to put a stop to these practices and to recognise his obligations to his younger brothers and sisters.

Passing from the general to the particular subject of this debate, I think we should not be discouraged if at this stage we fail to persuade Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation restricting the acts at present performed by circus animals. I think our true objective should I be so to influence public opinion that decent-minded people will not visit performances involving cruelty to animals, still less take their children. A falling off in "gate" money is the most potent argument to a circus proprietor. It must also be remembered that debates in your Lordships' House have a powerful effect outside, even though they may seem to have fallen quite flat at the time. Just over three years ago I raised the subject of vivisection in this House, and I found myself in a minority of one. Since then, I have had letters from many parts of the world, and only this month I received a letter from Vienna saying that my speech had been translated into German and was being circulated through Germany and Austria. So the ripples in the pool spread, and whilst I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will accept this Motion to-day, yet, if they do not, there is no need to lose heart—dropping water wears away a stone.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for having raised this extremely interesting and unusual subject, and for giving us one of the most useful debates to which we have listened for some time. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that it is nearly twenty years since we discussed this matter. Of course, it has recently come to the public eye, through questions in the newspapers and through one or two items on the wireless. It is particularly appropriate that the noble Lord should be the one to introduce this Motion this afternoon, because we all remember the distinguished and vigorous part which his father played in the campaign which went into the making of the 1925 Act.

I think this has been a notably moderate debate, particularly in view of the fact that much of the propaganda to which we have been subjected, both recently and over the years, has been a little unwise and almost hysterical in its violence, thereby, of course, detracting from the force which it would have carried had it been put in a more moderate or, may I say, a more scrupulous way, There have been twelve speakers to-day and, listening to the entire debate, as I have, there is no doubt whatever which way the opinion of your Lordships has gone. It has been almost unanimous in one direction. It has evoked certainly strong condemnation of cruelty in any shape or form, and the debate has reinforced our national feeling on this subject. Whatever the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, may feel about it, I think it is something about which we in this country feel that we are in the forefront—the pioneers in the campaign against cruelty to animals. The problem now is how to put it all into practice.

It seems to me that the question must be considered at two quite different levels. First, there is the question of the active and deliberate acts of cruelty against animals during training. Such acts everybody condemns. I think I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that there has been some considerable improvement in past years. I believe that a little of the evidence brought forward by the noble Lard who moved this Motion may now be slightly out of date. There are certain safeguards against cruelty. The machinery exists, and the two Acts to which I shall refer are, I believe, working tolerably well. It will be my task in a moment to try to justify that statement, and I wish to make clear that that is my task. I am not here to defend, or to be the advocate of, circus proprietors; nor on the other hand to attack them. I will try to tell your Lordships my view on whether or not existing legislation works properly and carries out the task set it. It is the second level, the implication in the actual terms of the Motion, which your Lordships have discussed in some detail—namely, is the mere fact of requiring animals to perform in public itself inherently cruel? That is a question of opinion and taste. There is nothing more difficult to discuss, or to legislate for, than such questions of taste as this. Some people dislike all zoos except, perhaps, conceivably, the Whipsnade open type of zoo. We have had their point of view forcibly put forward this afternoon—that it is inherently wrong to capture animals, however kindly you seek to do so, transport them and imprison them in a cage.

Although I am responding here for Her Majesty's Government it would be hypocritical of me if I were to try to disguise my own feelings, and it would be no service either to your Lordships or to myself. I must honestly confess that I find myself thinking very much along the lines suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich. Some pepole go further and dislike even the sight of acrobats risking their necks for our amusement. I am not certain that I do not agree with that point of view, too. In the course of preparing the remarks I am now addressing to your Lordships, I spent an interesting and profitable time during the Christmas Recess watching a considerable number of circus acts in training to see whether I could pick up information for myself, for this is a very personal matter—in many cases it is even a question of conscience. The view to which I came was that it was perfectly possible to train practically all wild animals by kindness, whether they were born in the jungle or in captivity. In a large number of cases that is done. I am prepared to reiterate and stand by that view, for I am certain of it. I believe the evidence of my own own eyes, and I do not think that over the considerable examination which I gave the matter I was being deceived. Equally, I am certain that some circus acts do involve varying degrees of cruelty. There is no doubt of that, and the most reputable circus proprietors will agree that there are acts, which can be enumerated, in which cruelty undoubtedly has occurred. It is no use denying that fact either, and reputable circus proprietors deplore it as much as anybody. They say there are "black sheep" in every family.

One or two noble Lords appeared to be under some misapprehension in thinking that domestically bred wild animals cannot be trained. A lion born in captivity can be trained perfectly. It is only when in-breeding reaches an extreme stage that that becomes impossible. It is difficult, therefore, to discriminate. It would be easy to go the whole way and to ban all circus acts, but so many of your Lordships want to go halfway. Some noble Lords say that we should except carnivora, and perhaps chimpanzees, and leave domestic and quieter animals alone. If it were my task I could produce evidence to prove that, alas! it is perfectly possible to be cruel in training domestic animals like horses and dogs while you can, perhaps, find no cruelty in the training of lions. It is quite clear to me that some animals enjoy performing. Some people may call it undignified, but it is a matter of personal opinion. Chimpanzees obviously enjoy performing, as any amateur who is watching them can see. Sea-lions obviously enjoy their performance. As an old Wykehamist I myself, when watching this training, found that a certain quiet pleasure was to be derived from watching four sea-lions learning to play the Eton Boating Song on motor horns.

These are all matters of conscience for public opinion, rather than for a Government, for it is difficult to legislate on matters of taste where opinions are so varied. Her Majesty's Government have this afternoon been asked to legislate but about ten conflicting opinions have been put forward as to how far we should go in that legislation. I emphasise that aspect to show your Lordships that the matter is not as straightforward or easy as might appear. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked for an inquiry. There is nothing to hide here, and if we felt convinced that an inquiry would do any good, or would serve any purpose in clarifying the public mind, we should agree. But I believe that it would find nothing not already well known and readily available. There is already a great deal of information about performing animals. The working of the Act is known over a wide circle, and certainly all the information sought or touched upon this afternoon can readily be found without the delay of an inquiry. If the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, wants information on any specific point I will readily obtain it for him. If public opinion is not yet sufficiently aware of the facts, perhaps this debate in your Lordships' House may have served a most useful purpose in acquainting people of the facts and the difficulties.

May I turn now to my task of justifying the claim I made earlier, that the law is working tolerably well. The legal position has a very complicated history, with which I will not weary your Lordships. Two main Acts are involved. First, there is the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, which makes it an offence to beat or terrify any animal or to cause it unnecessary suffering. Then there is the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act, 1925, to which several noble Lords have referred this afternoon, which requires every trainer or exhibitor of performing animals to be registered with a local authority. Registrations have to be reported to the Home Office and must be available for inspection. Records show that since the Act came into force 1,191 persons, including 488 aliens, have registered under the Act—a fact which serves to emphasise one, of the difficulties, namely, the international aspect of circus life. The circus is one of the greatest international free masonries in the world.

That brings in a difficulty touched upon by several noble Lords—that there are different standards of humanity in different countries. There is bull-fighting in Spain, but if one tried to introduce bull-fighting into Wembley Stadium, there would be complete uproar straight away. Yet I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has an element of justice in his claim, as I suspect that if one succeeded in introducing bull-fighting into Wembley Stadium there would be a queue half way round Middlesex to see it. There is, however, no reason to think that standards of humanity in foreign circuses are necessarily lower than those in our own. The standards applicable to big circuses abroad are very high. I do not stand here to defend them; but I believe that in justice one must not automatically assume that any circus act coming to this country comes with a much lower standard of humanity behind it than our own. I mention that point only to emphasise the difficulty of distinguishing between acts trained abroad, and half-trained abroad and finished here, and acts wholly trained here.

Section 3 of the 1925 Act empowers duly authorised officers of local authorities and the police to enter premises. It has been frequently asked this afternoon: why do not the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have the right to enter training premises and inspect them?—they have, of course, the right to attend circuses. The reason given by circus proprietors is that the law already gives certain classes of people the right to entertraining premises, and they say that that is sufficient. They say that once the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has that right, one must, of necessity, give it to every other animal protection organisation, not all of whom have the reputation and high position of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; and the circus proprietors have no grudge against the R.S.P.C.A. and work happily in consultation with them Moreover, when Parliament was doing this—I have looked up the debates which we had in your Lordships' House a few years ago—that was a point which was made by several noble Lords. Once you let people go in in a quasi-police capacity, there would be no end to it. You might have representatives of the Lord's Day Observance Society, for example, exercising semi-police powers. I suggest that if you give the right to officers of the local authorities, who are responsible to the electors, and to the police, you will be right to confine it to those people.


May I ask whether it is not a fact that R.S.P.C.A. inspectors have the right to enter slaughterhouses, and that that right has been refused to the representatives of all other societies concerned with the welfare of animals?


That I do not know. I am only telling the House the reason which, at the time of the 1925 legislation, led to the restriction of these powers to police and local authority officers. I was not aware of the fact which the noble Lord has just given us. The court, on proof being given to it that the training or exhibiting of any animal is accompanied by cruelty, can prohibit or impose conditions on training or exhibition. Conviction of an offence under this Act or under the 1911 Act may result in the cancellation of registration. Orders made by the court have to be reported to the Home Office. It is an interesting fact that no such orders have ever been reported. To my mind, that suggests that the value of the Act lies in preventive power rather than in punishments awarded. I cannot give your Lordships any figures relating to cruelty to animals, because the statistics which we have do not distinguish between domestic and performing animals; but I can reassure your Lordships that the number is very small indeed. Before the debate, I took the precaution of getting in touch with the chief constables of the areas in which the permanent training headquarters of the various circuses in this country are situated. There are, I think, about a dozen circuses in this country, of varying sizes, varying qualities and varying standards of behaviour. I asked the chief constables to carry out a special inquiry under the terms of the Act, with this Motion in view, and to tell me what they have found. They said that in their view there was very little indeed to complain about. The animals, they stated, seemed well cared-for and the training was carried out humanely. Their opinion was that the Act was being scrupulously observed. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was a little worried about the training of animals for films. I think, however, that he may have overlooked the provision of a special Act—the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act, 1937—which, I think, specifically provides for the point he raised.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. That disposes of the point about films. I do not know if it also disposes of the point about television.


The point about television, I think is probably this. Most of the animal films to which the noble Earl referred are a visual broadcast of actual circus performances at which there is a live audience, and those performances will be covered by the 1925 Act. I think that that applies to most of the cases which the noble Earl has in mind.

I hope it is clear that I am not trying to whitewash anyone or to justify the conduct of any particular class of people. I am merely trying to convince your Lordships that the relevant legislation is working well within the limits imposed upon it by Parliament. Of course, as we have realised, the law does not go very far in relation to the cases of which your Lordships have been talking this afternoon. It does not deal with the inherent objection of those who do not like any performing animal acts in circuses at all. So I must answer the Motion by saying that I think the existing law adequate, always bearing in mind the over-riding proviso concerning any inherent dislike—for which I have much sympathy—to performing by animals anywhere at all. The alternative which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, no doubt has in mind—if he will allow me to say so—is to go the whole hog and introduce legislation prohibiting any performances whatever by animals. We do not feel that we should go so far as that. We must recognise that there are large numbers of people who enjoy circuses, believing the animals to be well cared-for and to enjoy their own performances. If one is worried about the idea that children may be debased by what they see in circuses, there is a very simple way out: do not take the children to the circuses. The law of supply and demand works in the circuses as it does in nearly every other place, and if the circus proprietors find that people are staying away in hundreds and thousands they will take the hint and realise, in due course, that the public taste is changing.

I want to emphasise that I am not pretending for one moment that cruelty does not exist. I am convinced in my own mind that it does. As we all know, there are black sheep in every family. But it is very hard luck on people of repute that they should be condemned because of the undoubted cruelty of a man like Alfred Court, whose book I have here, and extracts from which have been read to the House by Lord Strabolgi. There are one or two circus owners in this country who have never employed Alfred Court for this reason they do not like his methods. That, I think, is a vindication of them. We all received to-day a circular letter from Mr. Bertram and Mr. Cyril Mills. I do not stand here to support them, but I must say that the letter did not strike me as being a letter written by men with a guilty conscience about anything. Whatever view you may hold on this matter, I do hope that one or two of your Lordships will take advantage of their offer and will go and see what is going on. I must say that when I spent some time recently visiting circuses and talking to trainers, as I did at some length and in detail, I was very much struck by the sense of responsibility which they showed. Clearly, it seemed to me, they are men who realise how much of a burden of humanity rests upon their shoulders. I was impressed by the eagerness of those to whom I spoke to earn the respect of your Lordships. One or two of them cross-examined me in a way which I think would meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Dowding. I was asked, for example, whether I had ever eaten eggs laid by hens which had been kept in a battery, or had drunk milk from a cow which had been deprived of her calf after two days. I was asked whether I liked paté de foie gras, and the question was further put to me whether I had ever won a shilling or two on a race when a horse had been pushed pretty hard past the post to win by a short nose. These are matters of opinion and conscience, and that is what your Lordships have really been discussing.

The law is working adequately for its limited purpose. I hope that this debate will have served to show what its provisions are and will have made its terms and safeguards more widely known. I do not think that there is any reason for an inquiry. It is not that there is anything to hide, but that the facts are already well known. The Home Office is as anxious as anyone to see that the law is observed, and will continue to keep the most careful eye on the working of this Act. But neither the Home Office nor any other Government Department can compel investigations or prosecutions. We welcome greater use of the law rather than some of the vague generalisations and some of the rather unsubstantiated attacks that have been made to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, apparently wants a big extension of the law. I wish that in the case about which he told us—that of his friends who had lost the ignition key of their car—those friends of his had called the police and had initiated a prosecution. That is the way in which the law can best be brought into use. But the extensions of the law which Lord Strabolgi wants are very different and a much more difficult matter. There has been a great deal of unsuccessful Parliamentary activity, both before and after the passing of the 1925 Act, and that activity was directed towards expanding prohibitions on the lines suggested by Lord Strabolgi. I do not know whether the views expressed by your Lordships to-day reflect public opinion or not. It has been noticeable to-day how marked has been the opinion on one side. I have sympathy with a good deal of the views which have been expressed.

If the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, would like to copy the example of his noble father and try his hand at private legislation, we shall all wish him good luck. But I think he would be well advised, first of all, to find out how widely reflected the views which have been expressed in the House to-day are in the public mind and the public conscience. He would do well, I think, to ascertain whether there is, in fact, as strong a feeling among the general public as has been shown in the House this afternoon in favour of the abolition of all animal acts in circuses or in favour of abolition to a certain degree. I think it would be wrong for me to offer him encouragement. Entirely in his own interest, I have pointed out one or two difficulties that would arise—they may have occurred to him already—if he tried to get a measure through the House. Clearly, the right place to try it is in your Lordships' House, which has always been sympathetic to legislation of this nature, but I warn him of the difficulty of trying to legislate for morality and taste, which is really what he is trying to do.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. I am not trying to legislate for morality and taste, but against cruelty. Morality and taste are quite different matters.


If the noble Lord legislates against cruelty and goes to the logical conclusion, he will have to say, like the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, and his right reverend prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich, that the mere putting of an animal in a cage, however well it is treated, is in itself cruelty. That is the problem which the noble Lord has to overcome and I should add that I have considerable sympathy with that point of view.

I can only give the House an assurance that we shall look carefully at the suggestions which have been made for improving the working of the Act. I think that it is working pretty well, within its strict limitations. We shall certainly keep in mind the opinions expressed to-day, but I should be doing a disservice to the House if I promised Government legislation or gave any very great encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in urging him to put forward private legislation. That I cannot and will not do. But I would ask him to take a further sounding of public opinion. I think he can take comfort in that. We have to be grateful to him for an extremely moderate and well-informed debate.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, while we are all grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Mancroft, for his reply and for his personal research into this matter, I must confess that I regard his reply as one of the most disappointing I have ever heard at the end of a debate in your Lordships' House, and I have been here for quite a long time. His reply disappointed me for this reason: out of twelve non-Government speakers (the noble Lord was the only one to speak in this debate on behalf of the Government) only one was satisfied with Government policy. Yet the Government do not appear to have given one inch by way of concession to what is obviously the overwhelming opinion of those who are present in the House this afternoon. The noble Lord admitted that there were certain cases of cruelty in the training of wild animals. Surely those cases are exactly the cases we want to know about. They are the cases public opinion must know about, if it is to be in a position to judge whether these acts in circuses are to be allowed or not.

At this late hour I do not want to reply in detail to the noble Lord. He refused me an inquiry, which was what I asked for, and he refused the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, a favourable consideration of a Private Member's Bill, which was what he asked for; and he did not suggest any concession to the views that have been expressed by your Lordships. I regard it as a constitutional principle of really first-rate importance that the Executive should pay some attention to the views that are expressed by a majority in both Houses of Parliament, and so long as we have a Second Chamber our views, as well as those of another place, are entitled to consideration by the Government. In view of that, although I shall ask the House for leave to withdraw my Amendment, as the via media I offer is not acceptable to most noble Lords, I shall certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, if, in protest against this ignoring of the opinion of the House, he decides to press his Motion to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to wind up the debate and I will not detain your Lordships long. I should

like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly those who have supported my Motion. I think the many people who are concerned about this traffic in performing animals will be most heartened by the fact that the great majority of your Lordships are in sympathy. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for his full reply. I know that he has gone into this matter with his usual care, but I must say that I am somewhat disappointed with his reply. I should like to make clear that I am not satisfied with the present law, because, although it may work fairly well in this country—and I stress the word "fairly"—it has no control over imported animals, and a great many of these animal turns come from overseas.

The other point which the noble Lord mentioned was the visits by R.S.P.C.A. inspectors. I agree with him that probably it is not desirable to allow representatives of a private society to go into private training quarters; I agree that that is setting up a bad principle. But surely that is only an additional reason why these performing animal turns should be prohibited. I have noted well the noble Lord's advice that I should sound public opinion. I also note that he has suggested that in due course I might bring in a Private Member's Bill. I am disappointed that the Government will not view it with any particular sympathy, though I think the noble Lord gave me the impression that they would not be opposed to it. On the other hand, I think that the Government will probably go just so far as public opinion requires them to go, and that the first step is to sound public opinion. With this in mind, and knowing how representative your Lordships' views are of those of the country, I propose to ask your Lordships to be good enough to divide on my Motion.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 12; Not-Contents, 18.

Cholmondeley, M. Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Greenhill, L.
Haden-Guest, L.
Listowel, E. Ailwyn, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Amulree, L. Silkin, L.
Dowding, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Chesham, L. Howard of Glossop, L.
Gosford, E. Conesford, L. Mancroft, L.
Home, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Saltoun, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Freyberg, L. Strathclyde, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Gifford, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Selkirk, E. Hawke, L. Teynham, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.