HL Deb 03 May 1962 vol 239 cc1120-30

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD AILWYN in the Chair]

Clause 1 [Prohibition of use of certain poisons for killing animals]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved, to leave out Clause 1 and to insert instead: 1. Where the use of any poison for the purpose of destroying any animal has been prohibited or restricted by regulations under this Act—

  1. (a) the fact that the poison was used as mentioned in the proviso to section eight of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, or the proviso to section seven of the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act, 1912, shall not be a defence in proceedings under paragraph (b) of either section if the poison was used in contravention of the regulations: and
  2. (b) any person convicted in such proceedings of an offence committed by or in connection with the use of the poison in contravention of the regulations shall be liable to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both.

The noble Earl said: As it stands, this Bill makes it an offence to place a designated poison—that is, one which has been prohibited by the Minister—on any land, or to administer or cause to be administered, any designated poison to any animal. In the first clause of the Bill as it stands, the provisions of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and the appropriate Act for Scotland are recapitulated; and it has been suggested to me, and I think rightly, that it seems better to avoid this overlap by the words which I put down on the paper, which have the same effect as my original clause but avoid this overlap between the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, applying to England, and that of 1912 applying to Scotland. The only other alteration, as your Lordships will see, is that in the Amendment the administration of a poison is excluded. Under the principal Act it is forbidden to administer a poison without reasonable cause. The only persons who are likely to administer a poison with reasonable cause are veterinary surgeons, and it seems probable that it is only the administration by a veterinary surgeon which would be held to be with reasonable cause. I feel that the provision for administration is unnecessary, and it is therefore omitted from the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 1 and insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Animal Poisons Committee]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved to leave out Clause 2. The noble Earl said: When I moved the Second Reading of this Bill I expressed some little shame at suggesting the setting up of one more committee, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, in that debate pointed out that Ministers have a vast amount of expertise available to them, as indeed I know to be the case. The infestation department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for instance, is constantly working on pest destruction and trying to devise new and more humane methods of destroying pests. I think one should at all costs avoid setting up additional committees. I am satisfied that the Ministers would have the necessary advice available and I am also satisfied that the animal welfare societies, who are of course rightly interested in this Bill, would be able to make submissions to the Ministers. Indeed, I think the Minister would not be able to hide behind the committee and would have to rely on his own responsibility. That, in fact, is what this clause provides. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 2.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3: [Designation of cruel poisons]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved, to leave out Clause 3 and to insert: 3.—(1) Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that a poison cannot be used for destroying animals or animals of any description without causing undue suffering and that other suitable methods of destroying them exist and are or would in certain circumstances be adequate, he may by regulations made by statutory instrument prohibit or restrict the use of that poison for destroying animals or, as the case may be, animals of that description. (2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

The noble Earl said: This Clause 3 gives the Minister wider powers than he had under the provisions of Clause 3 in the Bill as given a Second Reading. Under the Bill as it stands the Minister can only prohibit the use of a poison, and it might well be that a poison which was indubitably cruel could not be prohibited because it was the only poison available for killing a certain animal. Under the Bill as it stands at the moment the Minister could not prohibit the use of that poison. Under the Amendment he could prohibit the use of that poison for all other animals other than the particular animal for which it was essential to retain it, and I am advised that the Amendment as drawn up does secure that, although I must confess that I found the ways of Parliamentary draftsmen extraordinarily difficult to understand. I am told that the words: or, as the case may be, animals of that description mean some other animal which the Minister wishes to exempt. But I must accept what I am told as being correct, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 3 and insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Amendment of Section 23 of Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved to leave out Clause 4. The noble Earl said: Clause 4 was intended to provide that regulations made under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act should not provide a loophole whereby designated poisons could be bought and used for killing animals. In point of fact, if by regulations the Minister who makes provision for people to buy poisons under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act were himself to prescribe the use of a poison he would not, and indeed could not, with the other hand give permission for it to be used under another Act. Therefore this clause is unnecessary. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 4.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Saving for purposes of scientific education and research]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved to leave out Clause 5. The noble Earl said: Clause 5 was necessary because, under Clause 1 of the Bill, it was an offence to administer poison. It was necessary to make provision for the administration of poison by research workers, but as administering poison no longer comes within the ambit of the Bill as amended, this clause is no longer necessary. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 5.—(The Earl of Cranhrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Interpretation]:

THE EARL OF CRANBROOK moved to leave out all words after "animal" and to insert instead: "means any mammal".

The noble Earl said: The definition of the word "animal" in the Bill as it stands is "any kind of vertebrate". That term was put in because it was in the original Act. I have always understood that it was put in that Act by mistake, either in your Lordships' House or in another place, because the legislators of the day thought that as a mammal was a vertebrate all vertebrates were mammals; and an Act which was intended to apply only to mammals was considerably extended. Be that as it may, birds of course are protected by the Protection of Birds Act, 1954; nobody wants to poison frogs, toads or snakes; and "mammals" seems to be the most convenient definition here. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 39, leave out from (" animal ") to end of line 43 and insert (" means any mammal ").—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

3.25 p.m.


Perhaps this is a convenient moment at which to make the observations I think I ought to make about this Bill. I have nothing to say about the merits of the Bill—indeed, I do not know what the merits are, because having, regard to all the Amendments that have been moved, I am at a complete loss to understand what is left of the Bill. So far we have left out Clause 1 and put in something entirely different; we have left out Clause 2; we have left out Clause 3 and put in something entirely different; we have left out Clause 4, left out Clause 5. and we are now in process of completely altering the purpose of Clause 6.

On an earlier occasion, in connection with another Private Member's Bill, I strongly objected to this procedure. It means that we have now an entirely different Bill from the one which received a Second Reading. I should have thought that the proper procedure, when a Bill is so fundamentally altered, as this one is, is to withdraw the Bill and introduce a fresh one in the form in which the noble Earl Who wants it brought before the House desires it to be considered. It is most difficult for those of us who try to follow the business of the House to give our approval to one Bill, and then to find that, by a series of Amendments, we are being asked to approve an entirely different Bill. This is not a personal criticism of the noble Earl for whom I have a high regard. I imagine that he has been badgered by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, and the Parliamentary draftsman into doing this. If these are the only terms on which he can get his Bill through, I would strongly recommend that he leaves it alone and does not try to impose this kind of procedure on the House.


Might I say a word? I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend. I recollect the previous occasion when he objected to a Bill which had the sympathy of the House. The draftsmen came along, as they quite rightly do, and helped the noble Member. The noble Lord then objected. Surely there is a distinction between a Bill of this kind and one which is controversial. Everybody in this House accepts the purpose of this Bill. It is to protect animals against destruction by such a poison as strychnine, which involves considerable pain and agony to the animal, while everybody knows that there is an alternative available. That is the purpose of the noble Earl who introduced the Bill.

It happens, of course, that Departments are expert in the draftsmanship of a Bill. Nobody here pretends to be an expert in the drafting of a Bill. Let us take the last clause that the noble Earl mentioned. I cannot understand why my noble friend cannot understand it. In the definition of "animal", which includes worms and creatures of that kind, the noble Earl wishes to insert "mammals", which is, of course, the correct expression. There is nothing difficult to understand about that. It is the kind of thing that an expert draftsman would suggest to the noble Earl. I would ask my noble friend not to try to prevent the passage of a Bill of this kind which has the acceptance, in principle, of both sides of the House merely because, for academic reasons, he finds it a little difficult to understand.


I have had some experience of poisons, and especially of strychnine, from the point of view of game preservation. I remember that as a boy I watched gamekeepers who would poison half a sheep or a hare and peg it down on the ground. The crows and gulls would then come and take the poison, and I would say that they would die in extreme pain. I am all for the noble Earl in his Bill, but as it has been handled it has not, so far as I can see, altered the law at all.

The whole trouble with the Pharmacy Acts is that people can ask the agricultural executive officer for a permit for strychnine to poison moles. But quite a few of the people who obtain a per- mit for poisoning moles use it not only for that purpose but also for the purpose of poisoning other animals. Although the use of strychnine is made illegal, apart from its use by veterinary surgeons, we shall always have this abuse. It is an extremely cruel poison, and I do not think its use for any purpose at all can be excused.


I am very grateful to the noble Lady for rising in my defence, but I must confess that I stand in a white sheet in front of the noble Lord who criticised me. I feel I should apologise to your Lordships' for my faulty drafting. I felt very ashamed, and put down these Amendments on the Order Paper in order to try to tidy up the Bill, although I was abundantly satisfied that the Bill was in its effect the same as when I introduced it. Although I do, as I say, stand in a white sheet for faulty drafting, I hope my mistakes in drafting will not make your Lordships feel that this Bill is not still a good one and should not become law if it is at all possible.


Before the Government reply, could I ask my noble friend this question, because he has changed the description of the animal here? Is this Bill, as he proposes to amend it, going to make any difference to the legality of gardeners carrying on their existing methods against worms, slugs, rats, mice and wasps?


Neither under the Bill as drafted nor under the Bill as I propose to amend it would animals other than vertebrates be affected. I think the noble Lord has lumped moles with worms. One has a backbone and one has not. It is the animals with backbones which are protected, not the ones without. Only mammals, with backbones, come under the proposed Amendment.


Then only rats and mice do so, out of my list?


Only rats and mice, and I think you said moles, did you not?




Only the rats and mice are mammals, of course.


May I ask a question on this? I think this question would have been more appropriate to the Second Reading of the Bill, but, unfortunately, I was not able to be present. It is on a matter which affects Scotland more than England. While this Bill applies to animals and not to birds, frequently poisons are put down to kill predatory birds, such as carrion crows, which do a tremendous lot of harm to young birds, protected birds' nests, and they sometimes even take young lambs. When the poison is put down in eggs for the crows to take, perhaps a valuable dog will eat it and die. Some time ago on an estate I saw this happen to a very valuable collie, who took up some strychnine and died—a dog worth some £300, which fortunately was insured. In a case like that I am rather at a loss to understand whether or not the man who put down the egg to kill the bird is responsible for the death of the dog, because Clause 1 says: "causes to be administered to any animal any designated poison …". He has caused it to be administered. What is the answer to that?


This is really a Second Reading point, but, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to reply to it. Under the Bill as amended it will be an offence to put down any designated poison for any purpose whatsoever. It is also an offence at the moment under the Protection of Birds Act, 1954, to use any poison for killing birds, except under a licence given by the Minister. I am informed that only one such licence has been given and that the poison is then specified. I have absolutely no doubt that the gentleman who filled that egg with strychnine was offending against the law. He could, and should, have been prosecuted, and should have been convicted and fined.


I thank the noble Earl for his answer. I am sorry I did not mention this point on Second Reading.


I am quite sure about the backbone point, but I am unsure about the position in regard to the poisoning of moles. Will this upset the licensed poisoning of moles?


Under the existing law the Minister can, and does, give permission for strychnine to be used for poisoning moles, and I presume he will continue to do so until he is satisfied that another and equally effective poison is available, at which time he will prohibit strychnine. If he gives permission for that to be done it will be because he has not the power to prevent it, save under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act; but, if he is satisfied that an adequate and satisfactory poison or alternative exists, then he can prohibit it. But, until he is so satisfied, he will not prohibit it.


I thank the noble Earl. I hope the day will very soon come when another poison will be available.


It might be convenient to your Lordships if I intervene now. What the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has just said is the whole point of this Bill. We did go into it in fairly considerable detail on Second Reading, and the reason for this Bill, and the major point of it, is that new poisons are becoming known and are coming on to the market. When a new poison can supersede an old poison such as strychnine, then this Bill will give my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the power to outlaw that particular poison for the particular type of animal. That is why I am in complete agreement with the noble Lady opposite, because that was the point upon which your Lordships were agreed on Second Reading—unfortunately, it is rather a different story from my being in agreement with the noble Lady this day next week in your Lordships' House. If this Bill did not get through your Lordships' House, we felt—and I myself said so—that there could undoubtedly be unnecessary cruelty caused to certain types of animals. You will remember that we considered it might be very bad luck upon seals in Scotland, or equally upon moles.

Although I must admit, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, that we have altered this Bill very considerably, I think my friend the noble Earl is too modest. It is not due to any faulty draftsmanship, but rather to the complications about which we have heard something this afternoon in Committee—to make quite clear the difference between the obtaining and the laying of poisons for certain types and species of animals. That is the reason we have had to amend this Bill so considerably. There is of course the point about an advisory committee and I explained to your Lordships at some length why we felt that was not necessary, as indeed my noble friend has already explained. I would say, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that I welcome all these Amendments and would commend them to your Lordships, this Amendment in particular.


At the risk of incurring my noble friend's fury once more, may I just say this? I had no intention of opposing this Bill, but I am very concerned that we should do our business in a proper and regular way. Of course, every Bill is susceptible to amendment, and I have moved a great many Amendments in my time; but, when we come to a Bill in which every clause is amended, and most are withdrawn, and the Bill is an entirely different Bill from the one presented, I think we have reached the point where it is justifiable to consider whether the right thing is not to withdraw the Bill and introduce a fresh one and to deal with it in this way. Nothing I have said indicates that I have any desire to continue cruelty to animals or to do anything of that kind—indeed, I hope at some future time to show the contrary—but I feel that this is a point of procedure which we should consider very carefully. There must be a limit to the way in which a Bill is so amended and truncated that it becomes virtually a different Bill altogether. I think this is something which the House should consider at some appropriate time.


I think that there may be something in what the noble Lord said, and I have every sympathy with it. I certainly did not mean to imply that he was against the theory of this Bill, but it certainly would not be very helpful if his advice were followed in dealing with this Bill. I can only assure your Lordships that the original principle is preserved, and even strengthened, in the amended Bill, as my noble friend has said, and I commend this Amendment to your Lordships.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Short title, extent and commencement]:


This Amendment is quite formal and I do not think it needs any explanation. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 2, at end insert— ("( ) This Act and the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 to 1960, may be cited together as the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 to 1962, and this Act and the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts, 1912 to 1960, may be cited together as the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Acts, 1912 to 1962.").—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.


This Amendment is consequent upon leaving out Clause 4. Perhaps in moving it I might say that the last time I took a Bill through a Committee stage of your Lordships' House was some time in the late 1920's when the fathers, and possibly the grandfathers, of some of your Lordships were rather kinder to me than the noble Lord opposite. At that rate of legislative output, at my age I doubt whether I shall be troubling your Lordships' children and grandchildren. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— In the Title, leave out ("to amend the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933.").—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with Amendments.