HL Deb 13 February 1968 vol 289 cc37-69

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This is a Bill designed, in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum: to improve the conditions under which ponies are exported from Great Britain by imposing restrictions on such export. I feel that I owe it to the House to state my credentials for moving a Bill of this kind. For many years my wife has devoted herself to looking after a number of ponies and donkeys which at the time when she acquired them were in such a condition as to be fit only for slaughter; and they would have been slaughtered, either in this country or abroad, if my wife had not acquired them. She has made it her objective to give these animals proper food and to have them cared for in her own fields. The result has been that she has been able to give comfort and happiness to a number of these animals for many years. One in particular, which was apparently incapable of any further activity or interest in life, has been with her for 15 years and to-day it looks like going on for another 15 years. So, my Lords, I have a real personal interest in the welfare of ponies, and that is why, when asked, I was very willing to introduce a Ponies Bill.

The export of ponies has substantially increased in recent years, and continues to do so. To-day nearly 6,000 ponies are exported each year, and the number is growing at an average rate of some hundreds every year. Many of these ponies are perfectly suitable for breeding, riding or exhibition purposes. Indeed, I would say that that applies to the great majority of them. Riding, in particular, has become much more popular on the Continent and also in the United States and Canada. Such ponies are registered by one of the 15 or so recognised pony societies. These societies keep stud books and register certified ponies of the breed being exported. They are exported by reputable dealers and breeders of thoroughbreds.

On the other hand, it is unfortunately the case that a number of ponies are being exported which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as of any immediate, or even ultimate, value for the purpose of breeding, riding or exhibition. Whereas the thoroughbred ponies will sell at high prices ringing perhaps from £100 to even £1,000 or more, these other ponies sell for only a few pounds. Sometimes they are taken from market to market for the sake of securing a profit of a few shillings. Eventually they go for export. These are known as scrub ponies and are of no particular breed. Very often they are wild. Sometimes they are taken from their dams before they are weaned. In many cases they are less than a year old and unbroken, and even were they capable eventually of being trained for riding, it would be two or three years before they could be used for that purpose. Others are old, barren ponies. It is hard to conceive that buyers abroad would purchase them in order to keep and to train them for two or three years. The fear among a great many people in this country is that the animals are sent abroad for early slaughter for human consumption. The object of my Bill, my Lords, is to prevent this from happening.

These ponies are transported from many areas in England and Wales under conditions which, at the best, are unsatisfactory and at the worst cause considerable suffering to the ponies. Some of these animals may have been running wild in places like Dartmoor, the New Forest and the Welsh mountains, and they have never learned to take their food or drink from a trough in the way in which animals normally feed. Often they are made to travel long distances to a port of departure and inadequate facilities are provided for supplying them with food and drink. Sometimes they are overcrowded and no provision is made for a rest period, and this causes a great deal of suffering. I am not suggesting that there is deliberate cruelty. I think that very few people would, consciously and deliberately, ill-treat animals, certainly not valuable animals. But I submit that the conditions of travel and export are not always sufficiently known, and among people engaged in the trade of exporting scrub ponies there are those who are indifferent to these conditions. It is only with such ponies that the Bill is intended to deal, by controlling their export.

Experienced members of some of the pony protection societies, of which there are quite a number (not, of course, to be confused with the breeding societies to which I have already referred, who register ponies) have from time to time inspected ponies being sold at markets. They have no difficulty in detecting a scrub pony, and their judgment is confirmed by the prices for which such ponies are sold. The same ponies have been inspected at the port of shipment. In one case members of a protection society saw 90 ponies in a group being embarked after a superficial inspection by an inspector. These people are satisfied that conditions up to the port of shipment, and on board the vessels, are often most unsatisfactory and that in the main the ponies are not suitable for riding or breeding nor are they thoroughbreds suitable for exhibition. Indeed, any attempt to ride a pony before it is three years old in itself amounts to cruelty, and in any case would be a somewhat hazardous proposition. Investigators have also seen ponies put on a ship for export where the inference was inescapable that the purchaser abroad was buying them for immediate slaughter except where he might find a rare case of a pony fit to keep for training or breeding.

There has been a good deal of legislation for the protection of animals, going back to 1847. The latest of the Acts of Parliament dealing with horses is the Diseases of Animals Act 1950. That is a lengthy measure which deals with animals generally, but Sections 37 to 41 deal specifically with the export of horses. Those provisions provide for the examination by a veterinary inspector appointed by the Minister of horses being shipped for export, and its object is to ensure that the horses are capable of being conveyed to any port outside the United Kingdom and disembarked without cruelty and are capable of being worked abroad without suffering. The examination is not generally a very close one. I think that anyone who has had any connection with it would agree that the inspection by the inspectors is of a superficial character. The Act also provides that horses should be of certain categories, should be not more than eight years of age and of not less value than certain figures which are stated in the Act.

The word "pony" is never mentioned. Although I recognise that the term "horse" covers a pony, it is quite clear from the language of the relevant sections of the Act that ponies were never in contemplation in 1950 when the Act was passed. The Act talks of heavy draught horses, vanners, mules and genets, but never mentions ponies. In 1966 Mr. Kimble, a Member of another place, introduced a Private Member's Bill on lines similar to mine, to deal with ponies for export. Unfortunately it came on late on a Friday afternoon and was talked out, after a somewhat hostile speech by the Government spokesman—the sort of speech which I believe I am going to receive this afternoon.

It is only in recent years that those concerned with the welfare of ponies in particular have thought it necessary that a specific provision for the protection of ponies for export should be enacted. A number of Statutory Instruments have been passed relating to horses and ponies. The earliest of them, so far as I have been able to ascertain, was in 1958, and it restricted the export of ponies to places outside Europe and defined a pony. I believe that it defined "pony" for the first time as being a horse of not more than 14 hands in height. The latest of these Statutory Instruments is dated April 28, 1966. This, however, does not deal specifically with ponies and does not meet the demand for a rest period before export. So the legal position at present is that there is no restriction at all on the export of ponies, except that they have to be certified as being capable of being conveyed to their destination and disembarked without cruelty and are capable of being worked without suffering. It may well be that at the moment when they are being inspected by a veterinary inspector—often in bulk, as I have said—there is nothing to justify him, on a superficial examination, in refusing a certificate. Therefore the Bill lays down certain conditions which ponies going abroad have to satisfy.

Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to ensure that only ponies which are intended to be exported for exhibition, racing, jumping or polo, or for breeding, shall be permitted to be exported. In doing this, the Bill provides that ponies should have the same protection as is laid down for horses in the Diseases of Animals Act 1950—that is, that there should be a minimum value for ponies so being exported. The minimum in the Bill is £80, and in the case of a pony not exceeding 12 hands in height, £50, or such other values as may be prescribed by the Minister.

Clause 2 provides for a rest period for ponies being exported and sets out in some detail what is meant by a rest and the conditions to be complied with. These are taken verbatim from the two Statutory Instruments, Nos. 170 and 1254, of 1947 which cover the cases of cattle, sheep and swine going abroad. These have been in operation now for nearly 11 years and there is nothing revolutionary in extending them to ponies, particularly in the light of the long distances which some ponies travel from the places they are gathered, such as Wales, to ports of export, such as Great Yarmouth.

Clause 3 prohibits the export of any pony mare which is heavy in foal or showing fullness of udder, or of any pony foal which in the opinion of an inspector is less than six months old. It also prohibits the export of registered ponies unless there is a certificate from the Pony Society in whose stud book the pony is registered stating that the pony is fit and suitable for export. This places responsibility upon the registered societies, but I am sure, from their reactions to this Bill, that they will be only too ready to accept this responsibility. Clause 4 extends the Act of 1950 in respect of offences against that Act to the present Bill, so as to make quite sure that it does include the ponies provided for in this Bill.

Since the publication of the Bill I have received a large number of communications welcoming the Bill, including letters from almost all the pony societies expressing the view that its provisions are necessary for the purpose of preventing suffering. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals strongly support the Bill but would like some detailed provisions modified, particularly in the case of registered ponies. This, and any other suggestions, I am of course prepared to consider with sympathy and with, I hope, understanding at the next stage of the Bill. Only one body—the International League for the Protection of Horses—are against the Bill and regard it as unnecessary. They deny the truth of the facts I have given, attack those who have made personal investigations as well as the Press, such as The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and many others who have published articles on this trade in scrub ponies.

I have said very little about the fate of ponies once they reach foreign soil. As I have already said, there is a great fear among many people that a number of scrub ponies which are sent abroad are used for immediate slaughter. I am bound to admit that direct evidence of this has been most difficult to obtain, although it seems to me a reasonable inference from the fact that these ponies are useless for any other purpose, unless they are kept and trained over a period of two or three years. Even then, as I have already said, they are of inferior quality and breed, and it is doubtful whether they will ever make the grade. I cannot think that in many of these cases the importing of ponies would be regarded as an economic proposition; to buy them and keep them for two or three years, knowing they may never be very suitable for riding or other purposes.

I want to emphasise again that I do not wish to do anything whatever, in this Bill or elsewhere, to prevent the export of ponies for the legitimate and beneficial purposes which I have already stated. Although the numbers are small, they constitute a valuable export and one which does a great deal of credit to this country. But I am sure that no one would wish to undermine this object by allowing the export of ponies which are not of this high standard and are no credit to us.

We in this country have an instinctive and emotional objection, which is not the case on the Continent, to the use of horses for human consumption. This objection is of long and historic standing. But, of course, tastes differ. Admittedly, pony meat is regarded as a great delicacy in some countries, and the people there are entitled to enjoy it without any moral dictation from us. It is, however, no part of our business to provide it at the expense of a popular revulsion of feeling. In this country, the horse and the dog hold a special place in the hearts and affections of most of us. Although many countries regard horsemeat, and some even dog meat, as delicacies and as very suitable and desirable for human consumption, most of us regard it with horror and repugnance and would not wish to associate ourselves with it or permit such a trade.

I understand that the Government spokesman is going to contend, as he did in another place, that this Bill is unnecessary, I presume because existing legislation already safeguards the condition of ponies about to be exported and because, as I understand it, everything that is contained in this Bill is already contained in existing legislation. I shall listen with great interest to what my noble friend has to say, but I hope I have shown that this is not so, and that Clause 2 of the Bill is essential to ensure a rest period, under proper conditions, for ponies being sent abroad. I maintain that there is nothing in existing legislation which provides a rest period for ponies being so exported. I maintain also that Clause 3, which restricts the export of certain ponies, such as those heavy in foal, or too young or too old, is not covered by existing legislation, and ought to be.

I understand that the noble Lord will also tell us that the Bill will damage our export trade in ponies. How, I wonder. Surely only on the basis that ponies such as I have described are prevented from going for export. This Bill does nothing to prevent the useful and valuable pony from being exported; and the more, the better. It seeks to prevent the scrub pony from going abroad. And I say to your Lordships, with confidence, that we do not want an export trade in ponies which we have every reason to believe are going for immediate slaughter, having no other worthwhile and profitable use abroad. In any event, such a trade does harm to the very high reputation we have for the export of thoroughbred ponies or of the recognised breeds for riding and similar purposes. We have our societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and for the protection of ponies in different parts of the country where they are endemic to the area, and they all support this Bill in principle. I am sure that the people of this country will welcome the Bill as a further step towards preventing suffering of our dumb friends; and I am equally sure that this House will do the same, and give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

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

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend on the very fine way in which he presented his Bill to the House. My noble friend, with his vast Parliamentary experience, is a master at presenting Bills. This is not the first one he has presented with success, but to-day I think he probably excelled himself. He gave the House a number of examples of ponies being exported in what he described as very unsatisfactory conditions, and actually spoke of cruelty to ponies in some cases. My Lords, I speak early in the debate, and not at very great length, to give the attitude of the Government to the Bill; and, despite the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Silkin, I hope to convince him and your Lordships that this Bill is quite unnecessary, and at the end of the day I trust that, having aired his views, my noble friend will not press the matter further.

I think it is true to say that the motives which have led to this Bill stem from the traditional British concern for the wellbeing of animals, evidence of which is provided by the impressive amount of animal welfare legislation at present in force. I think we can take a justifiable national pride in this. Generally speaking, we are, as we know, an animal-loving people—and we are proud of it. But I hope to prove to your Lordships that much of the concern felt for ponies as reflected in this Bill is quite unfounded, and that their welfare is well catered for by existing legislation, despite what my noble friend has said.

As I see it, the Bill seeks three main objectives: one, to eliminate the export of cheaper ponies; two, to provide a compulsory rest period for all ponies immediately before export; and, three, to prevent the export of mares advanced in pregnancy and of young foals. These objectives raise important issues of principle. First, there is the question of whether ponies are being, or should be, exported for slaughter. Some years ago, a general concern over the known trade in the export of worn-out working horses to the Continent for slaughter led to controls which set a maximum age and minimum value for this class of horse. This trade subsequently died out. In recent years, a trade has developed in the export of ponies to Europe for breeding and riding. Some animal welfare interests allege that the cheaper ponies, ostensibly exported for these purposes, are in fact slaughtered for meat and skins. Other welfare bodies disagree. All inquiries into specific cases have not yielded any convincing indication of a systematic slaughter trade, but I suppose that when the ponies are too old for breeding purposes, and too slow for riding, they will then eventually be slaughtered.

I think I should make it clear that to export a pony for the purpose of slaughter is not of itself an offence against the law of this country; although I am aware, as my noble friend pointed out, that this is very distasteful to many people in the country, especially real horse lovers. It is necessary, however, to say this, because some who argue that a systematic slaughter trade exists seem to imply at the same time that it is the duty of the Government to stop it. This is not the case, but if it were argued that it ought to be the case and that the law should be altered to make it so, we should have to remember that we allow the export of cattle, sheep and pigs for slaughter, and it is difficult to see why we should afford a lesser degree of protection to those species than we do to others.

I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Silkin has given thought to this aspect of the matter. The difficulty in using minimum values as an export control is that in setting figures high enough to make certain that slaughter would be an uneconomic proposition, much of the export trade in ponies for breeding and riding would be prevented. The adoption of minimum values in the Bill would cut out nearly half the export trade in ponies for riding and breeding. This would particularly affect the Shetlands, where pony exports have afforded a useful addition to the income of many of the islanders. I think this answers one of the questions posed by my noble friend Lord Silkin. He wondered how this would affect exports, and I am sure that few people would wish to damage the economy of the Shetlands, even to this extent, bearing in mind that it is an already limited export trade.

One of the arguments advanced in favour of eliminating the export of lower quality ponies is that these animals are not so well treated as the more expensive ones. My noble friend referred to this point, and he also stressed the fact of cruelty in some cases. I hope my noble friend will take particular notice of what I am about to say. Our current regulations, which apply to all ponies, irrespective of value, require that the animals must he inspected at or near the place of embarkation by a Ministry veterinary officer and certified by him as fit to travel before they can be exported. If an inspector thinks that because of fatigue, pregnancy, injury, disease, youth, old age or for any other reason a pony cannot travel without unnecessary suffering, it cannot be exported for any purpose. Welfare conditions on board ship are also the subject of detailed regulations. If my noble friend thinks that out I hope he will agree that the welfare of animals is quite well catered for.

The statutory arrangements which already exist provide reasonable and practical safeguards up to the time the animals are disembarked. We have no control over the welfare of ponies, or indeed over the welfare of any other exported animals, once they have landed in their country of destination. I know this is another point that worries my noble friend and his supporters, and there is no escaping the fact that we could only alter the situation by not allowing any animals to be exported at all. The Convention for the Protection of Animals in International Transport, which the Council of Europe has promoted and which we hope will shortly be finalised, should do much to secure uniform welfare safeguards for ponies and other animals in transit on the Continent.

On the question of compulsory rest periods for exported ponies immediately before export, we gave careful consideration to this in 1966 when drawing up the current Orders governing veterinary inspection for fitness to travel and related matters. This rest period was made mandatory for cattle, sheep and pigs in 1964, but we concluded that it was not necessary for horses, including ponies, because the horse is better able to withstand travel stresses and, unlike those other animals, it can rest and sleep while standing. Also, the veterinary inspection for fitness to travel makes it unnecessary because it detects the pony which is too fatigued to be allowed to be shipped. Therefore we see no justification for the additional restrictions proposed in the Bill.

May I give a brief summary of the views of the Government. An export trade in ponies for slaughter has never been proved. Even if it were, it would not warrant serious interference with the export of ponies for breeding and riding. The current statutory requirements relating to veterinary examination as to fitness for export and to conditions of transport provide reasonable welfare safeguards for all ponies, irrespective of age and condition.

In conclusion, may I say that I have listened with great care to what my noble friend Lord Silkin had to say but I really feel there is no justification at all for the additional restrictions proposed by his Bill. I wholly understand and appreciate the motives of my noble friend, and I hope he will be able to accept that the Government are unable to go along with him, for the reasons I have given, in suggesting that we should give the Bill a Second Reading to-day.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, we are faced to-day with a Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, which has been put forward with his customary clarity, and with soft words by the Government turning down his proposals. I find myself in some difficulty in regard to this Bill, because frankly it seems to me to be odd in principle that we should take chunks out of Orders and introduce them as a Bill. However, I understand the noble Lord's difficulty in this matter, because of course he cannot introduce an Order but he can introduce a Bill. I am bound to say that I had hoped the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, would be able to say that the Government would take over that part of the Bill where they manifestly could introduce an Order under Section 20 and Section 23 of the Diseases of Animals Act to cover the point of the rest period.

The noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, has argued that this is not necessary. I am not an expert in this matter and it is too early in the debate for me to express a firm opinion on it. There is no doubt that the pressure from the breed societies is very strong. I think one is bound to conclude in this matter that it really depends on the efficiency of the inspection. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said—and I think I can quote his words: There is no deliberate cruelty but there is evidence that inspection by the veterinary inspectors is often superficial. I also have had evidence of that. I had a constituent who spent her entire life looking after the welfare of horses, trying to see that they were not maltreated, either in this country or on export. She was able to produce quite a lot of evidence, most of which was almost consistently denied by officialdom, but one could not but feel that there were grounds for what she said. And this is the difficulty the House is in: we have to weigh the evidence of people who go around and make it their life's work to see that the horses are not maltreated against the evidence of those whose job it is to do the inspection and, quite naturally, resent any suggestion that they are not doing it properly. I hope that the noble Lord will at least be able to undertake to carry his investigations rather further on this issue.

As I have said, I do not think myself that it would be right to have a Bill for the purposes of Clause 2, simply because all these things can be done under the Diseases of Animals Act. The noble Lord has said that the Government considered doing this in 1966, when they introduced the Exported Animals (Protection) Order (I think it was originally drawn up in 1964), but decided not to do it. I hope that the noble Lord will undertake, in view of the obviously very strong feeling about this matter, that the Minister of Agriculture will receive representations and go into this matter even more fully than was done at that time.

On the other parts of the Bill I must confess I am not altogether happy. There is the question of imposing the minimum value as a means of protection. I am very doubtful whether this is the right way of securing the protection of horses. As the noble Lord has said, it will reduce the amount of export. It will affect not only the export of animals that may be going for slaughter but also the export of animals that are being quite legitimately sold abroad, even though they are not of the highest quality. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I think by a slip of the tongue, gave, at least to me, the impression that the Diseases of Animals Act, Section 37, put a minimum limit of value on all horses, although he also mentioned, at another stage of his remarks, that the horses in respect of which the minimum values are imposed are restricted to heavy draught horses, vanners, mules or jennets.

The other point is this. I can quite see the noble Lord's intense interest in ponies, but everything he said about ponies applies also to horses. So far as horses are concerned—and that includes ponies—of course they are covered, so far as carriage by sea is concerned, by the Horses (Sea Transport) Order 1952. So if there is anything wrong, it is something wrong in the enforcement of that Order, rather than, in the case of sea transport, a need for any further legislation. But the point I am really making is that that applies to all kinds of horses, including ponies, and I should have thought that if it was necessary to fill the gap in the Orders by a fresh Order relating to rest periods that should relate also to horses.

Finally, there is another point on which I am not happy. I think we shall all be in favour of anything that can be done in order to stimulate the demand for our quality breeds of ponies, and to encourage exports and enhance the reputation of the breeds, provided of course that it can be done without undue restriction on trade. The Bill seeks to tackle this by the provision in Clause 3 which says: … it shall not be lawful to ship, or attempt to ship … (c) any registered pony unless there has first been obtained from the secretary of the society in whose stud book the pony is registered a certificate … that the pony is fit and suitable for export. So far as fitness for export is concerned, if that means physical fitness then, of course, it is already covered. As for suitability for export, I am extremely doubtful whether the pony societies are necessarily the best judges of this. I should have thought that suitability for export was rather a matter for the buyer abroad to decide, for the market to decide, and. I should hesitate very much to confer on these nine societies powers to decide, because they would actually be deciding whether or not a particular pony should be exported, whether it was suitable for export. I feel that this is going too far. It seems to me that this is the real nub of the Bill; this is the point on which the Bill is seeking to achieve the purposes which the noble Lord has in mind, and I do not think this is the right way to achieve those purposes.

To sum up, it seems to me that, so far as the aspect of cruelty, or the avoidance of suffering, is concerned, this can be done by Order under the Diseases of Animals Act, and it is a question of convincing the Government that they should bring in such an Order. If the Government were to be absolutely obstinate about this, if they were to say that they would not receive any further representations and that they were firmly opposed to considering any such Order, then I think your Lordships would be justified in carrying this Bill further and supporting the noble Lord. But if the Government are going to be reasonable about this matter, and will undertake to meet what I am quite certain is the wish of your Lordships, that every possible care should be taken, then I think that the best thing would be not to proceed with the Bill, for the reasons I have given.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he does not think that it is up to the Department to decide, not the pony breeders? Surely the Scottish Office, in one case, or the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, are the responsible people who should decide on the merits of the case.


My Lords, I am not certain that this should be decided by anybody except the customer abroad. If the customer abroad wants to buy a particular horse, it seems to me there is no reason why that horse should not be exported, so long as no suffering is involved for the horse, and no cruelty.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Silkin has made a very fair case for his Ponies Bill, and I hope very much that it will get a Second Reading to-day. As he said, it seeks to amend the 1950 and the 1954 Acts. My noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton said that he thought the existing Acts were adequate to give proper protection and safeguards. But if this Bill does nothing else, it defines the value, the size and the age of these ponies for export. The 1950 Act, as my noble friend Lord Silkin said, lays down that a heavy draught horse must be of a value of not less than £80; a vanner of a value of not less than £70, and a mule, jennet or ass of a value of not less than £10. But there is no definition of a pony for export.

As I say, if this Bill does nothing else, it defines the value, size and age of such a pony for export. It says that a pony shall not be over 15 hands, nor less than £80 in value, or in the case of a pony not over 12 hands of a value of not less than £50. It also deals with ponies in foal, with proper rest facilities at the ports, with health conditions which should be carefully supervised, and whether the ponies are fit for breeding or riding.

As has been said, the 1950 Act stipulates that horses exported must not be over eight years old. What I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton is whether these conditions to-day are adequately supervised, particularly before the loading of the animals for export. Is he sure that, even under the existing 1950 Act, these conditions are being properly supervised? Perhaps in his reply he can tell us whether the Ministry has sufficient staff at the ports to deal with this matter, and also whether there is sufficient accommodation for these animals for the rest period before they are loaded on a ship. And also, most important, has the Ministry a sufficient number of veterinary surgeons available for the purposes defined in the 1950 Act? Can he assure us, too, that on ship and at the ports they have sufficient of the various humane devices which have to be used from time to time?

If this has not been done under the 1950 Act, it may be one reason why so many people outside are anxious and worried about this problem. I would say to my noble friend that this is some thing that must be looked at, to see that the strictest possible control and supervision is applied in regard to these exports.

I am also concerned about the supervision of the actual conditions on the ships which take these ponies abroad, and what happens to them at the other end. The 1950 Act says that the Minister may make such Orders as he thinks fit for prohibiting their conveyance, and for ensuring for animals carried by sea a proper supply of food and water and proper ventilation during the passage and on landing; for protecting them from unnecessary suffering during the passage and on landing. I would ask my noble friend whether he can assure us that these Orders are in fact being made by the Ministry of Agriculture. Can he assure us that these qualifying conditions are being strictly carried out and are properly supervised?

I am glad to see that in this Bill my noble friend has included the Republic of Ireland. That is important and essential. Unfortunately, years ago Ireland had a poor history with regard to the export of horses, and I am glad that the Bill refers specifically to the Republic of Ireland.

I should like to quote from something which has been written by Lieutenant-Colonel Hope. Would the Minister, when he comes to reply, tell us, if he can, whether this is an exaggeration or whether he can refute this suggestion? The Colonel says: With regard to the pony exports, witnesses describe overcrowding in lorries carrying them to the East Coast ports; mares with foals at foot: foals separated from their dams; inadequate feeding arrangements; hurried veterinary inspection—92 ponies in half-an-hour; exhausted animals at subsequent Continental sales, one foal dying from its treatment, there being no facilities for putting it down quickly. The issue here is not so much the destination of these animals, but the treatment they get on the way. I should like to ask my noble friend whether he can reassure all pony lovers that that is an exaggerated statement or something which could not possibly happen in the export of these ponies.

It has been suggested that the export of Shetland ponies is an obstacle to my noble friend's Bill. I should have thought it was not beyond the powers of the various pony and stud-book societies to devise a certificate which would cover this particular aspect. I should like my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton, if he can, in his reply also to tell us whether, since the previous Bill in 1950, the value of ponies and horses has considerably increased beyond the value of £80 stipulated in that Act. I understand that ponies and horses have increased greatly in value in recent years, which would possibly make nonsense of that particular table in the 1950 Act. There seems to be a great lack of information about these questions, and I should like to know whether the records show the number of ponies which are exported from this country. One report suggested that the figure is something like 5,000 a year. Of course, no-one knows where they go and, when they get there, the purposes for which they are being used. Has my noble friend or the Ministry any idea of the market when the ponies get to their destination, and their real purpose when they are sold abroad?

I do not think that my noble friend's Bill is an unwanted child. In my view it is necessary: the 1950 Act is out of date on values and many other matters. I think it is extremely important that the Ministry should make sure that these charges of lack of supervision are not being exaggerated. One often says that the horse is man's best friend. These ponies are the best friends of thousands of children all over the country: they are their domestic pets in every since of the word. The children, all the time they own them, and ride them and care for them, give to those ponies love and devotion; and they have a most acute feeling of anxiety as to what will happen to their pony when they have outgrown it. How often does one read in the papers, "Will sell only to a good home "?

I hope that the noble Lord's Bill will receive a Second Reading and that the Government will give careful consideration to this matter in Committee. May be we ought to amend the Bill to include the horse, and so make it a much better and stronger Bill, but your Lordships will earn the undying gratitude of a large number of children by giving this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to make a few brief comments from these Benches in expressing appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for raising this question to-day, and for the obvious humanitarian principle which lies behind this Bill. Although he will not perhaps expect very much expert knowledge on this subject from this quarter, it is significant that, sandwiched between a debate on the future of the little Island State of Mauritius and a debate on the agony of the present situation in Nigeria, your Lordships find time to deal with the fate of a small section of the community with no voice of its own whose case might so easily go unheard. Although there is perhaps a great deal of ignorance in the country as to what is happening on this matter, I feel that there is a concern which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has rightly recognised, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord for bringing this matter forward for debate.

The Bill has already been criticised as to whether it is necessary and, indeed, as to whether it is workable. I do not feel competent to speak on that aspect, but I would comment that animals which are involved in any kind of cheap export trade will in the nature of things be exposed to dangers. Because they are cheap to breed, and because the price which they fetch is not large, they may suffer either from indifference as to the (methods and conditions under which they are transported—which, inevitably, do not perhaps involve more cost and effort than is necessary—and they may also suffer from the indifference and the treatment they receive in the country to which they are exported. Yet these are animals which are capable of feeling suffering, and whether or not they are costly animals the suffering will be the same. And one must remember that as they come from this country they are under our control and protection.

Although we cannot control their destinations or the purposes for which these animals are exported, we at least have a right to insist that every possible step is taken to ensure that the conditions within this country when they are exported to their destination are satisfactorily guaranteed. This in itself will not only alleviate suffering, but may put some brake on the rise of a callous or cheap kind of export of animals which we ourselves would not wish to encourage. As for the question of a minimal value of the animals themselves, this is no doubt an extremely difficult distinction to draw. The treatment and the usage of such animals in the country of destination, which lies beyond our control and yet is certainly not beyond our concern, will depend in part upon the value of the animal. We can at least ensure that the animal which is to be exported will be subject to responsible judgment and not be the victim of a trade which we should like to stop. As to whether this is being adequately carried out, or whether this Bill might include other animals within its provisions, I cannot say; but I hope that it will promote further investigation, so that at a later stage we shall be able to decide whether or not these provisions are adequate.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to give a welcome to Lord Silkin's Bill and to thank him for introducing it. The two objects of the Bill are, in brief, to prevent cruelty and to maintain and improve the quality of our exports of ponies. It is a failing of human nature that if one gets something cheap one is rather inclined not to take much notice of it and, perhaps, to disregard it. By bringing in price restrictions on the export of ponies, the Bill will go a long way to prevent the export of these so-called scrub ponies. It may be that the minimum price of £80 for ponies, and £50 for Shetland ponies, is too high, but I do not think that that is so, since the prices of all ponies have greatly increased during the past few years.

On the question of the traffic in cheap horses, I should like to tell your Lordships a short story of something that happened to me in Spain a few years ago when I was at a bull-fight. I have seen many bull-fights, although it is not an entertainment of which I am especially enamoured. It is true that the horses are heavily padded, but they can be knocked over and badly bruised, and can even suffer broken bones and ribs. I said to a girl—who happened to be a very beautiful Spanish girl, which made it all the worse—"Don't you think it is very cruel to the horses?" She said, "Oh no, you do not understand. They are not thoroughbred horses but are old hacks of no value."

To return to the Bill, these scrub ponies are bred on the hills; the stallions often are not licensed; they are completely wild and are sold cheaply. The dealer goes round to small farmers buying these ponies, and he will take them from fair to fair. During their transit from fair to fair they will probably not be well looked after, they will no doubt be maltreated, and they will go hungry and be frightened. I should like to see the trade in the export of these scrub ponies stopped.

I do not agree with a number of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton. He said that we export cattle for slaughter. That is true. But if one is logical about these matters, if one slaughters a bullock, why should one not slaughter a pony? But there are two points to be considered in this matter. The first is that cattle, sheep and pigs have a rest period and are very well looked after, whereas ponies do not have a rest period and are not so well looked after. The noble Lord said that ponies and horses can stand travelling and hardship far better than cattle. I have had a great deal of practical experience of horses, ponies, cattle, and sheep, and it is true that a horse or pony can go to sleep on its legs, but a horse is a more sensitive animal. No doubt through his contact with human beings for thousands of years the pony or horse has probably developed into a more sensitive being. I really cannot adhere to the argument that cattle sent for slaughter must have a rest period, but that ponies do not have to have such a rest period. With due respect, I really think that is nonsense.

The trouble with these wild ponies, and I have seen them driven into market, is that a foal is often forcibly weaned from the dam. Perhaps the foal is only three months old; it is completely terrified and will not eat or drink. The noble Lord said that we have our vets to look after this, but when a crowd of ponies are driven in the vet is not going to examine each one independently. I have the highest regard for the veterinary profession, but there is the question of time, and people are often in a hurry in big markets so that these inspections are quite often very brief.

I should just like to refer to the last paragraph of Clause 2 which says: … if during the rest period of any ponies, other ponies are introduced into the pen or enclosure where ponies already resting are detained, then the rest period of the ponies already detained therein shall be deemed to have commenced at the time of the entry of the last of the ponies so introduced. I quite realise that that was in the original Act regarding horses, but I should have thought that, for practical reasons, it would really be better to mark the ponies with a tag to show the time when they had been introduced into the rest period enclosure. Otherwise, one might have ponies being introduced into the enclosure for two or three days and the original ponies would still have to re main in the enclosure. That is perhaps a little far-fetched, but from a theoretical point of view it could well happen.

As I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out, we have had a restriction on price regarding heavy horses, mules, jennets and asses, and I cannot see why there cannot he a restriction on ponies. The noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, said that it would destroy a great deal of the export trade from the Orkneys, but I have a few Shetland ponies—I do not have them in the Orkneys; I have them in the Western Highlands, in the Hebrides—and I also have hill ponies. Now you do not usually sell Shetland ponies under £50, or Highland ponies under £80. If you sell Highland ponies or Shetland ponies under that price, you can only presume that they are going for slaughter, and the chances are that during their transit they will be badly handled. I quite agree that if you slaughter cattle you cannot logically object to slaughtering horses, but the point is that we want to be absolutely sure, if those ponies are going to be slaughtered, that they will have the best of treatment possible so as not to cause them suffering on their way to the abattoir.

I quite agree that there are many horse-lovers in this country. I do not know how many votes they command but, from the emotional point of view. I should really think it would be worth the Government's while to abide by the horse-lovers' wishes and prevent the export of ponies for probable slaughter. I will not go further than that, because I agree that one has to be logical. But from the emotional point of view it would be well worth the Government's while to give this Bill a Second Reading.

I will not detain the House any longer, but I should just like to point out that Clause 3, which deals with the export of ponies heavy in foal and foals under six months old is an excellent part of the Bill. I presume that if a pony was very heavy in foal the vet would not allow her to be exported; but, as I said, those inspections are very often brief and a pony mare heavy in foal could easily be overlooked.

There is one point which has always rather puzzled me. I understand that importing countries usually have to have a document from the Ministry of Agriculture stating where the ponies have been for the previous six months. If they have been roaming about on the hills, completely wild, I fail to see how the Ministry of Agriculture can produce a document saying with any accuracy where the ponies have been. Regarding the question of registered ponies in the stud books of the various societies, I agree with the noble Lord who asked whether the Secretary of the Pony Society is really the right person to tell whether a pony is suitable for export. Obviously, he cannot go round all the ponies whom the members of his Society desire to export, but he could certainly verify a pony's breeding and give a certificate which would be useful in itself.

I should like to give this Bill a welcome and to suggest that it gets a Second Reading—it can always be amended—because the export of ponies is a rapidly-growing trade. I think I heard one noble Lord say that it is now running at about 6,000 ponies a year. Some of these ponies are priced extremely highly—they can be priced at £2,000 or £3,000—and, to be practical, we do not want this trade spoilt by these Continental purchasers buying inferior ponies. Therefore, my Lords, I should like to give this Bill all my support and I sincerely hope that it will get a Second Reading.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I have first of all to declare an interest, as I have in the past bred Welsh mountain ponies and I am a member of the Council of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society. The Welsh pony, mountain bred, is a very popular breed in this country—indeed, all over the world. It is a very attractive breed, with great character and a great freedom of movement. It is in great demand as a child's pony. Indeed, many people are of the opinion that the Welsh mountain pony, the one under 12 hands, is ideal as the child's first pony. Welsh mountain ponies, Welsh ponies and Welsh cobs are to be seen at all the major shows throughout the country, shown either in hand or under saddle, or in harness.

Naturally enough, there is a considerable export trade in these ponies, and the great majority of them are fully registered and of a value considerably above the minimum value mentioned in the Bill. The bona fides of these ponies are not in any way in question; but it must be admitted that there is a certain traffic in what have been referred to as the scrub ponies—and nobody knows what happens to them once they get to their destination. We all know, however, that something happens, and the object of this Bill is to try to prevent it happening. That object, so far as it goes, is a very laudable one.

The Welsh Pony and Cob Society welcome this Bill. We think it is both sensible and humane in its objects; but, at the same time, there are drawbacks. The first of these is the manner in which the Bill has been presented to Parliament. I think it is very much to be regretted that the Bill has been introduced and printed without there having been any prior consultation between the promoters and the different breed societies. I gather that copies of the Bill, with a request for comments from the other breed societies, were not sent out by the promoters until about the second week in January, some considerable time after the Bill had been printed.

Surely, my Lords, it would have been far better if all these societies could have been consulted in advance on the drafting of the Bill. My Society, for one, would certainly have been very happy to cooperate in the drafting; and the result, I think, would have been a very much better Bill than the one which is now before your Lordships. Most of the creases would have been ironed out before the Bill was presented. There are certain points, such as the age of foals, minimum values and the question of lairage at ports, which should have been matters for discussion and agreement between the people involved in the trade—in other words, those people who are most closely affected by this Bill—and it should not have been a matter for arbitrary decision. I hope that if this Bill receives a Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will be receptive to Amendments which may be introduced to make the Bill more practical.

My Lords, I have one or two points on different aspects of the Bill. First of all, there is the question of lairage at ports, which is mentioned in Clause 2. Most ponies which leave this country for the Continent leave from Great Yarmouth, and the facilities there for lairage of ponies are quite adequate and very suitable. But there are also quite a large number of ponies which leave this country from other ports, such as Dover, Newhaven, the London Docks and also London Airport, and there are no lairage facilities at any of those places. It would be hard to justify the erection and staffing of lairage facilities at those places simply for ponies. It is possible that lairage might be found at farms in the neighbourhood with suitable equipment and responsible staff, and I wonder whether places such as those would be approved for the purposes of this Bill.

There occurs in Clause 2 the rather vague phrase, "at or near the place of loading". I wonder how one is to define "near the place of loading", because it seems to me slightly unnecessary, if you bring ponies from a stud, say, fifty miles or less from the place of loading, that they should then be compelled to have rest periods for the prescribed time. It seems to me that an exemption could be introduced into the Bill to make it unnecessary for ponies which have travelled less than a certain distance to have to take this prescribed period of rest.

Then there is the question of foals in Clause 3. In the case of the Welsh pony breed—and, I dare say, in the case of many of the other mountain and moorland breeds—many of the mares live out all the year round, many of them are running out on the open hill with premium stallions; and in the Welsh Pony Society we have a very comprehensive system under which premium stallions are licensed to run out on the hills, but they are not turned out before a certain date. The result is that although the majority of owners try to get their mares to foal in the spring, about April, when the grass is growing nicely, many mares do not foal until May or even June. When you realise that the main sales are held in the autumn, in October, it is only a matter of simple arithmetic to realise that there must be many foals coming to those sales which are well under six months old.

This age limit of six months is obviously unrealistic. One must face the problem of what age one is to set. I have heard many different opinions on this, but I think that one ought to differentiate between foals at foot and foals which have been weaned from their mothers. I think it would he reasonable to suggest that the minimum age of six months should be retained for weaned foals, but that foals still at foot should be allowed to be exported at the age of four months. That is a point which can be argued out at a later stage, if this Bill gets a Second Reading.

Then there is the question of values in Clause 1. I feel myself that these figures are rather arbitrary, and that the values of ponies, like the values of so many other things, fluctuate according to the state of the market and demand. Most veterinary inspectors are not really qualified to value ponies; they can certify that the pony is sound and fit, but they are not qualified to value them. And as for the dealers, the exporters, it would be very easy for some dealers to produce receipts for any desired figure. I think that this clause is unrealistic; but, at any rate, if it does not do any good, it probably will not do any harm either. At probably the most important sale of Welsh mountain ponies, I might mention that, in the first place, only ponies which are fully registered can be entered and, secondly, an upset price is imposed below which no pony can be sold. If a pony does not reach that minimum price it is not sold. That is, in part, a safeguard, imposed voluntarily by the auctioneers after consultation with the breed society, which already has many of the effects which this Bill now seeks to achieve.

My Lords, I turn now to the question of the export certificate, which is mentioned in Clause 3(1). I think that this provision is quite unworkable because no secretary of a breed society could sign such a certificate without either seeing, or someone authorised by him seeing, the pony. The offices of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society are at Aberystwyth; and although moss Welsh ponies are bred in Wales there are a great many bred practically throughout the United Kingdom. It would place an impossible burden on the breed society if the secretary, or some other authorised person, had to travel around the country inspecting ponies to sign an export certificate. Moreover, many secretaries of breed societies are not judges of ponies; they are just administrators. They run the secretariat and issue registration certificates for ponies; and in the case of the Welsh Pony Society they issue what is referred to as an export certificate but what is simply, in fact, a certificate of identity. It certifies that the pony to which the certificate relates is what it purports to be according to the records of the society.

The export certificate proposed in this Bill is, however, quite a different thing. It is supposed to certify that a pony is fit and suitable for export. I wonder what is meant by this. If the word "fit" means that the pony is well and sound physically, then the person to sign that certificate is not the secretary of the breed society but the veterinary surgeon. And who is to say whether the pony is or is not suitable for export? The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, mentioned this point, but I did not quite follow his reasoning. I think the clause is badly worded, and if the Bill gets a Second Reading to-day we shall have to do our best to improve it.

My Lords, there is another point on exporting. Clause 2(1) of the Bill says: No person shall ship, or cause or permit to be shipped, any ponies by sea or by air from any place in Great Britain to any place outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland … In Clause 3(1) there is what looks at first sight to be similar wording; but the words "by air" are omitted, and so are the words the Republic of Ireland". I am not sure whether that is by accident or by design. If it be by design, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would like to tell us why. In any case, it is hard to see why the Republic of Ireland should be included in Clause 2(1), because once a pony is exported to the Republic of Ireland it is outside the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's courts exactly as if it had been exported to France or to anywhere else. I should have thought the same conditions ought to apply to the export of ponies to the Republic of Ireland as to any other country overseas.

My Lords, those are the points which I wanted to raise to-day. I have been rather critical of the Bill. I believe that there is plenty of room for improvement, but that it is none the less a desirable Bill. I hope that it will achieve a useful purpose and that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be very brief. As one who has been concerned almost from birth with ponies and horses, I should like to say that I welcome the introduction of this Bill, because it has provided a chance to ventilate the question of whether inspection at the ports and elsewhere is sufficiently strict. From what I have heard I am convinced that it is not. It would be difficult to get an inspection which was sufficiently strict, but, even so, I do not think it necessary to have a Bill on this subject. A pony is only a small horse. Undoubtedly the breed societies have done an enormous amount of good; but regarding the scrub ponies (to use that term for want of a better) no breed society comes into it at all.

There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the valuation clause is not worth the paper it is written on. Scrub ponies come in hatches and are probably all put in for sale at the same price. A few might be better than others, but by putting in the whole lot at a basic minimum price it would be perfectly easy to include a few which were suitable only for slaughter. I remember many years ago going to Ireland, and after a good deal of "argybargy" and "blarney" I bought two high-class four-year-old hunters and a middle-class pony for a lump sum. I was asked, "If you will not give me my price for the chestnut four-year-olds, won't you give me a bit more for the pony?" In the end we put them all in for a lump sum, and if I were asked what was the price of any one animal, I could not say. That is a very elementary bit of bunch-trading, and the amount of such trading which goes on in this export business is enormous. So, as I say, I do not think the valuation clause is worth the paper it is written on. I repeat that I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for producing this Bill, but merely because it has been a means of ventilating a point: because I do not think that it is a necessary Bill.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue. In my view, there is no need for a Bill on this matter. My noble friend Lord Granville of Eye drew our attention to the real reason why the Bill has been introduced; that very often ponies are treated as pets and with great love and devotion by their owners, who do not like the idea of the animals being sent to become juicy steaks, perhaps, on a Belgian dinner table. I can perfectly understand the attitude of such people, but I think it to be a mistaken one. I am told that pony steak is very good and I do not see why anyone should not eat it if he wishes to.

I also think that ponies designed for export should travel under the same regulations as apply in respect of cows, and that inspections should be thorough. It is most important that we should care for all animals, whether we are proposing to eat them, ride them or whatever it may be. It is a mark of civilised people that they should do so. But I shall not support the Bill; I do not see why ponies need different protection from that afforded to cattle, sheep and pigs. I hope that my noble friend Lord Silkin will agree to withdraw his Bill, if he can be given an assurance by my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton that the matter of regulations and inspections will be looked into thoroughly.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Raglan has said that he will not support the Bill I feel constrained to say that I shall support the Bill out and out, on sheer, sloppy sentimental grounds. I do not wish to enter into any of the arguments we have heard about the technicalities and difficulties of enforcement and so on. I believe that ponies are loved by hundreds of thousands of people in this country and that we should try to set an example regarding kindness to animals. When all is said and done, my Lords, as has been said, "Kind hearts are more than coronets", and I should like us to be kind-hearted when we come to consider the merits of this Bill.

I have never owned a pony, but many years ago I owned two or three hunters and I used to follow a pack of foxhounds once or twice a week. I do not know quite where the kindness came in vis-à-vis the fox, and I have heard many theories about it, but I learned to love horses very much, both sick horses and healthy horses; and if we look upon a pony as a little horse, I am sure we shall be doing the right thing. If we pass this Bill and protect the ponies, we shall set an example to other people to treat them with kindness and consideration.

In recent years your Lordships' House has shown the way in many liberal-minded reforms. We were responsible for the Abortion Bill about which, naturally, there were many points of view and differences of opinion. We were responsible for the Sexual Offences Bill, another measure about which there were many sharp differences of opinion. Many noble Lords felt this to be a subject which had been too long neglected and which ought to be brought into the open and discussed. From time to time we have discussed divorce, another matter on which there are sharp conflicts of opinion, both inside and outside your Lordships' House. I appeal to your Lordships to show the same liberal-minded attitude towards this Bill.

We had a most interesting and delightful speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I found myself in complete agreement with nearly everything he said. It was a very forceful defence of the proposals in this Bill. I do not necessarily agree with him that this is the kind of Bill which will win votes for the Government. Goodness gracious! they need the votes, but I hardly think that, "Vote Labour and save the ponies" will secure many votes. Of course, I was not able to accompany the noble Viscount in his delightful story about the beautiful Spanish girl he took to the bull-fight. Perhaps that is a treat which is in store for me, though, with my advancing years, I hardly think it is.

I think it is a fact, as my noble friend Lord Granville of Eye hinted, that the present inspection of horses travelling in trains and on ships is not thoroughly carried out. I remember that one of the Sunday newspapers (I forget whether it was the Sunday Mirror or the People) conducted a close investigation a year or so ago into the question of the shipment and exportation of horses. This investigation disclosed gross cases of cruelty with which I am sure no noble Lord would agree. I certainly would not agree with it, and that is why I wish to see this Bill supported—because it will help to prevent the kind of cruelty that was exposed on that occasion. Many of us have seen the way in which animals are treated on the Continent. Some of the ponies undoubtedly go to Belgium, and I do not share the opinion of my noble friend Lord Raglan about the delightful taste of pony steaks.


My Lords, it is not my opinion.


Personally, my Lords, I try to go without meat whenever I can., and that probably makes me biased. I have seen horses very cruelly treated in Belgium. I have seen dogs very cruelly treated there, when they have been harnessed to little go-carts and made to pull them along when they are heavily laden while the lazy peasant merely holds the shaft behind them. I would not trust any British animal in Belgium. They have no sense of decency where the treatment of animals is concerned.

But I think that in approaching this measure the Government ought to try to find some reasons for supporting it. They will find many things wrong with the Bill. There have been many criticisms in your Lordships' House this afternoon, particularly of some of the technicalities, but if the Government will approach it from the point of view of trying to remedy such defects as there are in the Bill rather than from the point of view of trying to smother the Bill at first sight, then I think it would be to the Government's credit and perhaps to the pleasure of most of the Members of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I take up the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, on one point? I understood him to say that he saw no reason why ponies should be treated better than sheep, cattle and pigs. That is a perfectly logical argument, but the fact is that in transit they are not treated as well as sheep, cattle and pigs, because they do not have any rest period before embarkation.


My Lords, with permission, may I briefly reply to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan? The noble Lord asked whether the Government would be prepared to consider carefully any further representations made to them on this point. I readily give the assurance that they will do that.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether that statement is intended to induce me to withdraw this Bill, but I assure my noble friend that I cannot and will not do so. I feel that this is a Bill which ought to get Second Reading. Every noble Lord who has spoken has been critical of something. I am quite accustomed to that. I know of no Private Member's Bill ever submitted to your Lordships' House which has not been torn to pieces on Second Reading. But surely that is the purpose of the later stages of a Bill. I think that this House, with its unique knowledge and experience, is eminently suited to discuss a measure of this kind and to knock it into shape as something which will be satisfactory to all parties. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, who was critical of the way the Bill was produced, that a Bill was produced in 1966 and I understand that before that Bill was introduced all the organisations concerned with ponies were consulted. Not that it did much good. There were nine or ten organisations and they had nine or ten different views about the matter.


My Lords, I think that the version which the noble Lord has been told is slightly different from the story I have been told, which was that in the case of the previous Bill some of the societies got their first sight of the Bill 48 hours before the debate on Second Reading and there was simply no prior consultation at all.


My Lords, that just illustrates the difficulties of this matter. What I am prepared to do is this. If the House will be good enough to give this Bill a Second Reading, I will give a number of assurances. The first is that I will study what my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton has said about this Bill's not being necessary at all. So far as I can see, I cannot give him very much encouragement, because I believe that what is in this Bill is not covered entirely by existing legislation. He may say that he is not in favour of such matters as are not covered by existing legislation—that is a different point. For example, a rest period for ponies is not covered by existing legislation, but then my noble friend is not in favour of it. I am very willing to give an assurance to take full consideration of what has been said by him, and I should be happy to discuss the matter with representatives of his Department.

I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, who thinks that this matter could be dealt with by Statutory Instruments, that I will certainly consider what kind of Statutory Instrument we could provide; but I would point out that the weakness of a Statutory Instrument is that we cannot amend it; we either take it or leave it. I certainly think that it is worth while considering whether a rest period could be provided by Statutory Instrument. It has been done in the case of sheep, cattle and swine, and I agree with the noble Lord that this matter could perhaps be dealt with by an extension of the existing Statutory Instrument to make it apply to ponies.

This debate has brought out a number of matters as being worthy of consideration, and I should not like the whole matter to drop. If I were to withdraw the Bill, then the thing would be dead and there would be no further discussion about it. I should like to keep it alive and have an opportunity of discussing the various matters which have been raised. If, at the end of the day, I am of the opinion that I cannot get satisfaction from my noble friend or get this matter dealt with in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, would like it to be dealt with, I would reserve the right to ask my noble friend—my noble and unwilling friend—to give me a date for the Committee stage and further stages of the Bill.

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