HL Deb 21 June 1968 vol 293 cc1072-6

1.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now a read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, in declaring an interest as President of the Fauna Preservation Society and a Vice-President of the National Pony Society and the Ponies of Britain, I do not think this occasion should pass without someone, on behalf of many of us—I think all the equestrian Press and particularly those wretched scrub ponies who cannot speak for themselves—thanking Lord Silkin most sincerely for the tremendous trouble that he has taken to present this most necessary Bill. When I asked him if he would take it after it was "talked out" in another place—Heaven only knows why! —I never realised what a colossal interest and tremendous labour he would undertake. Therefore, I once more express our appreciation to him.

Secondly, I hope that this Bill will go forward. I cannot believe that it helps our export trade in any way if these "men from the mountains of the moon" descend and remove these wretched ponies straight off their mother's breast into lorries, shifting them round from sale to sale and finally, if they are unsold, shipping them all the way, let us say from Wales to Yarmouth, on to a ship for foreign parts. No-one in his senses can tell me that a yearling colt of unknown breeding is bought in Europe for the purpose of making a riding poney at the age of five. I beg to support this Bill, and to thank Lord Silkin most sincerely.


My Lords, it would be most ungracious if I did not, in a few words, express my appreciation and thanks to the noble Marquess for the help and encouragement that he has given me throughout the passage of this Bill. Unfortunately, it is not such a popular a Bill as I should have anticipated in this House, but it is of satisfaction to me that it has at last reached the Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 2 [Provisions for exporting ponies]:


My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. It is quite a simple Amendment and is intended to put right an omission on my part. As the Bill stands at present, the transport of ponies from the United Kingdom to the Isle of Man has to be regulated, because I had mistakenly assumed that the Isle of Man was a part of the United Kingdom. I find that, technically, it is not. Therefore, these words are being moved to put that matter right. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 5, after ("Britain") insert ("and the Isle of Man").—(Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, I will just say briefly that I will not oppose this Amendment because I propose to say something about this Bill on the next stage. I should say, however, that if adopted it would create on absurd situation. The noble Lord at an earlier stage took out the Channel Islands, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, and now to reintroduce the Isle of Man would, I respectfully put to him, be somewhat anomalous.


My Lords, I considered that, and I think that the passage of ponies from the United Kingdom to the Channel Islands should necessitate a rest period for them because it is a rather long journey. As regards Southern Ireland, I had a great many representations that they should be excluded, and I have therefore excluded them.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

1.56 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Lord Silkin.)


My Lords, at an earlier stage of this Bill my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton on behalf of the Government said that it might be necessary to advise your Lordships to vote against this Bill on Third Reading or at this stage. I want to state, briefly, although it has been said before, why Her Majesty's Government feel it better that this Bill did not make further progress. Underlying Clause 1 of the Bill is an assumption that a trade exists in the export of British ponies for the prime purpose of slaughter. We have no evidence to support this assumption The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, himself has ad! mitted that the existence of the trade is based on inference and fear rather than facts. But even if the trade did exist Her Majesty's Government do not believe that this would be the legislation best designed to stop it. It would, for example, prevent much of the export trade in ponies for breeding and riding. It would also draw an illogical distinction between the slaughter of ponies and the slaughter of other animals for human consumption. It would place upon veterinary inspectors a responsibility for assessing pony values which would be difficult to discharge, even for an experienced horse-dealer, let alone a veterinary inspector.

As regards the compulsory rest period required by Clause 2, we already have powers under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 to make an Order. We do not believe that the welfare of exported ponies is prejudiced by the absence of a compulsory rest period, but I repeat the undertaking already given to my noble friend that if the Bill is withdrawn we should be prepared to reconsider, in the light of comments from interested organisations and individuals, whether a compulsory rest period is necessary in addition to our existing safeguards As for Clause 3, we believe that to be unnecessary. Despite allegations to the contrary, existing veterinary inspection for fitness to travel, is already honestly and effectively discharged by the State Veterinary Service and will reject panies which for any reason cannot travel without unnecessary suffering.

My Lords, after the Second Reading my right honourable friend Mr. Peart, then Minister of Agriculture, saw the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and discussed in great detail the objectives of this Bill. He wrote to him on the 29th March restating the objections to the legislation proposed but giving assurances about the seriousness which we attach to animal welfare problems. The Minister emphasised that if my noble friend felt it possible to accept the assurances and withdraw the Bill, he would propose bringing the features of the Bill specifically to the notice of the Department's veterinary inspectors. My understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, never replied to this letter but nevertheless put the Bill down for further consideration on Committee stage.

On Report stage my noble friend made some rather critical comments about the non-co-operation of the Government and the Government spokesman on that occasion. I am bound to say to him that when he was making this criticism of non-co-operation I thought of the fact that that letter still, so far as I am concerned, remains unanswered. I therefore again invite my noble friend to consider the advisability of withdrawing the Bill. I do not, for obvious reasons, suggest dividing the House against it this afternoon, but, clearly, it would not be possible to support any further progress to the Statute Book.

2.0 p.m.


My Lords, that comes as a complete surprise to me. I had not anticipated the noble Lord was going to make an attack on the Bill at this stage. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, said something on Report stage, but I subsequently had a talk with him and he promised me that if anything of this kind was going to take place, if there was to be an attack on the Bill, I should be forewarned. I spoke to him as recently as yesterday and he gave no indication whatever that there was going to be any attack on this Bill.

I am not going to reply in detail, since the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, does not propose to divide the House, but I should just like to say one or two things. First, this Bill is strongly supported by every single pony protection society in the country—and there are quite a number of them. It is also strongly supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I have had a great deal of help from all these organisations. It is largely at their instance that this Bill has been promoted. Secondly, the particular provision as regards a rest period cannot be dealt with under the Diseases of Animals Act. I have been through the Act. There are certain sections of it which enable rules to be made, but there is nothing which would enable these rules to be made under that Act.


My Lords, may I, as a matter of interest, just ask my noble friend if that is his view why he did not respond to my right honourable friend's invitation to discuss the possibility of a further Order under that Act?


My Lords, I did have a talk with Mr. Peart and his officers, and I told him that I was prepared to withdraw the Bill if he would undertake to introduce subsidiary regulations under the Diseases of Animals Act; and, indeed, that I should be prepared to compromise to the fullest extent. He was not prepared to do so, and I told him that if he was not prepared to do so, I should proceed with the Bill. I did not see that that letter required any answer, since it contained no special offer.

I am sorry to be at variance with the Government. I do not agree with them that this Bill is not necessary. In my view, it is very necessary; and, as I have said, all the organisations concerned with the welfare of ponies strongly think so. As regards animals going for slaughter, there is of course a school of thought which takes the view that there is nothing very wrong with young ponies being exported for slaughter; and those who take that view, of course, would not be supporters of this Bill. But the fact is that there is something abhorrent to people in this country, who have a special love for horses and dogs, in the idea of our deliberately sending ponies for slaughter.

I said that I could not give specific proof, but the inference is very strong (and it is drawn by all the protection societies) that many of these ponies, which are not suited to any other purpose—for instance breeding, riding or exhibition—could not possibly be exported except for the purpose of slaughter. Since the Bill was introduced I have had some evidence, some direct evidence that that is the case. At this late stage of the Session I recognise that there is little chance of this Bill getting a hearing in another place, but I would ask the House to let this Bill pass with the intention on my part of reintroducing it early next Session and then possibly ensuring that it goes further in another place.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.