§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Order of the day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.—(Viscount Bridgeman.)
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, it is on advice that I rise at this rather strange stage of the Bill to draw the attention of the House to the circumstances in which we are about to enter the Committee stage. On the Second Reading the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, most properly introduced the Bill to us; and then, through a series of circumstances, the debate ended abruptly and very unexpectedly, with the result that a number of noble Lords were unable to deliver their speeches. But what was most important, in my judgment, was that we did not hear from the Government their views in regard to the Bill. I will not dwell on the circumstances that caused the end of the debate. The noble Viscount who sits on the Woolsack apologised the following day; but I think, with due respect to him, that possibly we were all to blame in that we did not rise up and object. My Lords, I rise now formally to ask the Government whether they can now state their views in regard to this Bill.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman and to the noble Lord opposite for this opportunity to put before Your Lordships' House the view of Her Majesty's Government on this Bill. I feel that I, too, must accept some of the blame that was apportioned to my noble and learned friend who sits upon the Woolsack for being dilatory in getting to my feet to give the Government's view. Your Lordships will remember that on Second Reading my noble friend Lord Bridgeman made a moving speech, in which he described the reasons and circumstances which have called for this Bill.
111 The Bill extends the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and the corresponding Scottish Act. Under these existing Acts it is an offence if any person, by wantonly or unreasonably doing or omitting to do any action, causes unnecessary suffering or, being the owner, permits any unnecessary suffering to any animal. This Bill Seeks to add a further measure of protection by creating an offence in respect of certain actions which are likely to cause unnecessary suffering—namely, the abandonment of an animal without reasonable cause or excuse. The important point is that it enables the authorities to act in advance of suffering being caused. An animal means any domestic or captive animal as defined in the principal Acts which I have mentioned. I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of all your Lordships when I say that the ownership of an animal is not to be undertaken lightly and carries moral obligations and responsibilities which must be honoured, however inconvenient it may be at the time. While Her Majesty's Government have received no particular representations on the subject of the abandonment of animals, they are prepared to support this Bill, if your Lordships are satisfied as to the need of it.
It may be said that the Bill is unduly harsh and restrictive, but I think, however, that it makes reasonable safeguards in this respect. It provides that abandonment must be without reasonable cause or excuse and must be in circumstances likely to cause the animal unnecessary suffering. As my noble friend said, an offence under the Bill attracts the penalties provided under the principal Acts. These are: a fine of £50 or alternatively, or in addition thereto, a sentence of imprisonment up to three months. In certain circumstances it will also give a court power to order the destruction of an animal, to deprive a convicted owner of an animal, to order that a convicted person be disqualified from having custody of an animal or from holding or obtaining a dog licence for a specified period, and to award compensation up to £10 for damages for cruelty to an animal.
I must admit that this will not be an easy Bill to enforce; indeed, my noble friend Lord Bridgeman explained that to your Lordships on Second Reading. 112 However, if the Bill is accepted, abandoning an animal will then become a criminal offence. If some person, possibly a neighbour, gets to know of such an offence or intended offence, the police, acting on information, will then be able to take appropriate action. The Bill will also strengthen the hands of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with regard to abandonment. The Bill, as I think your Lordships will hope, will be a real deterrent to any person who may think of abandoning an animal. Her Majesty's Government have no objection to its principle.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, as one of those who put his name down to speak on Second Reading, I feel that I must take some of the blame for not being on my feet at the time. In view of the fact that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor made such a charming apology, I must myself apologise for taking up the time of your Lordships with two points I want to make on the Bill. First, although it is a modest little Bill, I think that it will be very useful, provided that it is known that the abandonment of an animal in the circumstances set out has become an offence against the law. Therefore, I hope that when the Bill is passed, it can be given a certain amount of publicity, so that people will know that they cannot gaily or cheerfully abandon an animal when they go away on holiday. My second point, which has been made by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, is that it will awaken people to the responsibility of owning a domestic animal. It is not there merely for their own pleasure. One has to take a certain amount of responsibility for its care, even though it may mean cutting down some of one's own pleasures. Therefore, I trust that your Lordships will allow this Bill to go through and that, when it becomes law, it will be firmly enforced.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, I should like, in two words, if I may, to give a very warm welcome to this Bill and to endorse what has already been said. There is certainly ample room on the Statute Book for a measure of this sort, from which animals unquestionably will get great benefit. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals give 113 their unqualified support to the Bill, and I am sure that your Lordships' House be delighted to have the opportunity of helping forward this very progressive piece of legislation.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bathurst for having given us the Government's view on this Bill. I suspected on Second Reading that this would be the Government's attitude and I am sure it is well Ito have it on record now in the OFFICIAL REPORT, together with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for having assisted in making this short debate possible. But one thing seems to be lacking, if I may say so. I do not think that we know the attitude of noble Lords immediately opposite to the Bill. I doubt whether we have heard their views.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am certain that the policy of all my noble friends on this side of the House is to support the Bill. I certainly should not like it to be thought that I raised the matter as I did in any spirit of wrecking.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]
§ Bill reported without amendment.