§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill has a previous record in this House, and I should like to remind your Lordships of the early history of a Bill similar in terms to the present one. On February 13 last year I moved the Second Reading of a Ponies Bill. It was subsequently passed through all its stages without substantial amendment, and received its Third Reading in June. The Government were not entirely friendly to the Bill and made a number of objections to it, but in fact they did 495 not object either to the Second Reading or to the Third Reading.
At that stage, in June of last year, it seemed to me that the chances of the Bill going through another place were rather remote, so I decided to leave it to see whether it could be reintroduced as a fresh Bill in another place in the new Session. I was fortunate enough to contact Sir Robert Cary, a Member of another place, and he undertook with great enthusiasm to see this Bill through; so much so that I am afraid it rather played on his health, and after the Committee stage he had to withdraw altogether and leave it to somebody else.
The Bill received a Second Reading in another place without opposition, and it had a rather extensive Committee stage and Report stage where it was substantially amended in form, and in one respect in substance; that is, provision was made for Shetland ponies to be exported at a lower value than the normal pony. I will come to that in a moment. Subject to that, the Bill had its Third Reading and was passed without any opposition, and it now comes to us here as a rather better edition of the Bill which was originally introduced in February, 1968.
I may say—and I am very glad to say it—that although the Government were not enthusiastic about the Bill in another place, they nevertheless gave considerable assistance in its drafting. But whatever one may say about it, whether the Government are to-day going to like it any more, the fact remains that in their opinion it is a workable Bill. In fact, on Third Reading in another place the Government spokesman said that if this Bill was passed they would be able to work it. The Bill has the support of every single organisation dealing with ponies—the pony breeders, the protection societies, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and everyone else concerned. I am not sure about the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—he looks very sinister in his place. I think he was not quite enthusiastic, but I hope that the Amendment which was made in another place, dealing with Shetland ponies, will appease him to some extent.
496 In my Second Reading speech last year, I spoke at some length about the reasons for introducing the Bill. I even mentioned my own qualifications for introducing a Bill of this kind. I explained what was intended to be achieved by it, and I think that this House gave it general support since there were very few voices raised in criticism of any of the provisions of the Bill. So I do not propose to speak at any length to-day about the necessity for the Bill. If that is questioned, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say something in reply.
Briefly, this Bill has two purposes. The first is to ensure that if ponies are exported it is done under the most satisfactory possible conditions, without hardship. Many of them have to travel long distances, and the intention is that they should have a rest period before being shipped or placed on an aeroplane; that they should be allowed to rest in clean conditions, with adequate food and water, and, generally, that the whole treatment of ponies that are exported should be as humane as we can possibly make it. The second reason is to prohibit the export of ponies other than ponies which are to be used for breeding, riding or exhibitions.
In the last few years, there has been an increasing trade in the export of ponies. Much of this we welcome, because it is to the credit of this country that we are able to export ponies which are used for these very desirable purposes which I have mentioned. Unfortunately, accompanying this trade is another trade which is less desirable and of which we cannot feel really proud; that is, the export of scrub ponies, cheap ponies, ponies that arc untrained, and ponies that are fairly obviously not going to be used abroad for the purposes which we have in mind. I said in February, 1968, that I could not prove to the satisfaction of a court of law that most of these ponies went for human consumption. But I think it is a very reasonable inference that ponies sold at some of the prices at which they are sold in this country cannot be of much value for the purposes for which we really want to export ponies. Unfortunately, this trade is increasing, and therefore the second purpose of this Bill is to try to prevent the export of such ponies abroad. These objects are achieved by Clauses 2 and 3 of this Bill.
497 The first relevant clause is the one which provides for a control over the export of ponies by value. A minimum value of £100 is attached to ponies of 14 hands in height, and a minimum value of £80 is laid down for ponies of a lesser height. Then we come to the Shetland ponies, which are the smallest of all and in respect of which an Amendment was forced through and carried in another place on Report stage. The minimum value of these ponies for the purposes of the Bill is to be £40. I think that this control by value should be sufficient to ensure that ponies of the class that I have just described will not be eligible for export. It will be for the Minister to make regulations on this subject, and there is a provision in the Bill enabling the Minister to vary these figures if he considers it necessary.
My Lords, I do not think any of us is entirely happy about these minimum prices. Some think they are too high. I myself think that certainly the minimum price relating to Shetland ponies is too low. But I think the promoters of this Bill, and I in particular, would accept this if it were acceptable all round. It is probably a reasonable compromise; and in view of the shortness of time available, if there were no Amendments moved I should not myself be prepared to move an Amendment to increase the minimum price for Shetland ponies. In any case, they do not represent a large proportion of these exports. The number of Shetland ponies exported would run into a few hundred as compared with a good many thousand ponies of the other types that are being exported.
The other clause relates to the conditions under which ponies are to be exported. It provides, as I have said, for a rest period and for bedding, and for the Minister to make provision for feeding and watering, and all the rest of the things which are set out in this clause of the Bill. Here again, the change that was made in the other place was to the effect that the Minister should make regulations dealing with these matters. I may say that the Minister is by no means new to this. This Bill will be an extension of, and will be read in conjunction with, the Diseases of Animals Act 1950, which in Sections 37 to 41 deals with the protection of horses.
498 It has been said (I do not know whether my noble friend is going to say it again, but I have the answer for him if he does) that this Bill is unnecessary because all these provisions can be made by regulation under the Diseases of Animals Act. Be that as it may—and I do not agree that the Bill is unnecessary—the fact is that regulations have been made in re3pect of horses. For instance, when it comes to the export of horses of certain types the Minister can make regulations dealing with minimum prices, and some of these are actually laid down in the Act itself. I believe that the prices laid down in that Act have subsequently been changed by Statutory Instrument. Likewise, the Act provides for protection in the case of horses which are exported— not quite the protection that we want in the case of ponies, but a certain amount of protection. Therefore, I would say that there is nothing novel about the provisions in this Bill. There is nothing in the Bill I am now moving which is different from the kind of provision which the Minister is required to make under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950.
Finally, Clause 3 of the Bill restricts the export of registered ponies. These ponies are registered by the different pony societies (they are all mentioned in the Bill), and this clause provides that before one of these ponies is exported the society shall, after examination of the pony, provide a certificate that the pony is in fact registered with that society. Apart from that, I think there is nothing in the Bill which calls for comment. The Bill is to be read with the 1950 Act, and is to form part of it. I am quite sure, from the correspondence I had when I first introduced the Bill in this House, and from the correspondence I have had recently, that the Bill will be welcomed by a very large number of people throughout the country, more particularly lovers of horses and ponies. It will be regarded as a humane measure, somewhat belated. It is rather odd that the word "pony" is not mentioned or defined in the 1950 Act, but that is because at that time there was no trade in the export of ponies. But this measure has since become necessary, and I am sure that it will be regarded as one which is necessary to preserve the good name of this country and to avoid unnecessary cruelty to large numbers of ponies which at present suffer as a result 499 of their being exported. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ 4.48 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill, which is designed to improve the conditions under which ponies are exported. I am glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, describes it as a workable Bill; and I hope it will not be amended. Strictly speaking, I have no interest to declare, but I am an interested party in one sense, for earlier this month I was riding a horse in Wales, relishing the sight of Welsh ponies enjoying their freedom on the mountains and in the valleys. I contrast the freedom of some 25 ponies that I saw being rounded up from a Welsh hillside a fortnight ago with reports I have received of the conditions under which some of them arc exported.
I expect other noble Lords will have received accounts from eye witnesses of what sometimes happens when these ponies go abroad. May I give your Lordships one brief quotation? It is from a report dated October 18, 1968, given by an eye witness:Twenty-three Welsh ponies, completely 'wild', could not be unloaded for a veterinary inspection at Dover, prior to shipment to Belgium, as there were no facilities; the animals had to be 'inspected' inside the crowded livestock transport, thus contravening Article 4(1) of the Exported Horses Protection Order 1966. They were consigned to Zeebrugge Docks. After landing, they were transferred to Continental transports.I read of recent investigations on the Continent and at our own docks which have shown, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, that our cheaper exported ponies and foals are in special need of protection. The problem is not so much what happens when they are killed and whether they arc eaten as the question of how they are treated beforehand.
I believe that this Bill is urgently needed, because I am told that during the coming 18 months or so about 1,500 pit ponies will become redundant. In the debate on the Second Reading in another place it was said that there was unanimity 500 on two things: that no one wanted to disturb the legitimate export trade in ponies; and, secondly, that no one wanted to see ponies exported alive for slaughter. I share this opinion. There seems to be strong circumstantial evidence that in the last few years the traffic in scrub ponies and yearlings and old ponies not fit for riding has increased; and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already mentioned this. I read in Hansard of December 13, 1968:…the International League for the Protection of Horses has, until recently, stood back and said,' The stories about this trade tend to be exaggerated; they are based on a little too much hysteria and sensationalism.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 791.]But now this League has come out whole-heartedly in favour of the Bill; it recognises that this traffic exists. It may not have existed two years ago, but the League now says that it does and that it exists because of the glut upon the market of this country of third-rate ponies which has no outlet other than the slaughterhouses on the Continent.
I support the conclusions of friends of mine who know far more about this business than I do. They say that only our best bred ponies should be exported, and their price would protect them. Our nondescript ponies should be killed in the country where they are bred, in abattoirs that are humane and clean. I think that this Bill serve those ends well. Some years ago Pat Smythe wrote about her life and called her book Jump for Joy. Colonel Ansell, as he then was, wrote a foreword from which I quote:Pat has always loved her horses, and I well remember her sadness at the selling of Finality, not because she had said goodbye to a successful animal, but because she had said goodbye to a companion.My Lords, I shall want to vote for this Bill, not first on grounds of sentiment nor because I value so highly the companionship of a good horse or pony, but because Christians have a plain duty to treat animals with respect and compassion, with humility and understanding. I apologise to the House that I shall not be able to stay to the end of this debate. I have a long-standing engagement this evening at St. Albans and I must leave shortly. I regret an action that might seem discourteous to the House and to subsequent speakers. I strongly support this Bill.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I rise to support this Bill most strongly. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, he moved another Bill in this House which is to all intents and purposes the same as this one. As I spoke at considerable length on the noble Lord's Bill, which, I may say, lie so ably presented, it is not necessary for me now to speak for more than four or five minutes. I should like warmly to support the words of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans and I hope we shall not have any Amendments carried in this House on this Bill; because, as your Lordships know, if that happens the likelihood that this Bill will get on the Statute Book is almost nil. For it is virtually certain that another place will not find time to debate cur Amendments.
I should like to support the right reverend Prelate also in the remarks he made regarding pit ponies. I understand that there are 1,500 to 2,000 pit ponies which will probably become redundant in 1970. I have heard rumours that there may be efforts, by Amendment, either to put up the height of the 12-hands ponies to 12½ hands or to reduce the minimum export price of £70. If that is done these pit ponies will surely all go for slaughter on the Continent. When we are talking about the slaughter of horses, we must remember that provided the slaughter is done in this country under our laws, and done humanely, then, leaving emotion out of it, one cannot logically object. I myself have had horses slaughtered on my premises; but they were old horses who had lost their teeth. If they had been kept alive it would have been extremely disagreeable for them.
I have an idea—although I have no reason for supposing it; it is just intuition—that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is going to object to the figure of £40 as the minimum price for Shetland ponies. I think he would prefer it to be lower. It is true that in the Shetlands, in the markets in the crofting communities, a lot of Shetland ponies are sold for between £20 and £30. There is no doubt that this Bill will to some extent affect the crofting communities in that area. But, irrespective of that, it is utterly immoral to make money out of cruelty. Although I do not object to the 502 slaughter of horses in this country from a logical point of view, I object to the slaughter of young horses and ponies from an emotional point of view. I object to that most ardently. One cannot object logically provided it is done humanely.
What we object to, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said—and although there is no strictly legal evidence of it, it doubtless exists—is that a great number of the ponies that are exported on the hoof to the Continent are sold for butchery. With due respect to our Continental friends—and I do not want to be too rude about them, since we may, one day (though I rather doubt it) be joining the Common Market—they do not have the same standards and the same principles regarding the treatment of animals as we have in this country. Therefore, I hope that none of my noble friends on these Benches will seek to reduce the minimum price for the export of ponies as laid down in this Bill.
Having said that, I should like to take up the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. It is extraordinary that ponies were not included in the 1950 Act. I understand that 30,000 to 40,000 horses are exported to the Continent in carcase form, and that the export of horses on the hoof for slaughter has ceased owing to the minimum values contained in the 1950 Act. The obvious answer to the problem of Shetland ponies in the crofting communities would be to have an abattoir at Aberdeen, where scrub Shetland ponies could be slaughtered under our regulations before being exported to the Continent in carcase form. I would ask the Government to consider that. There is a Government Order regarding the responsibility for the lairage of ponies.
I hope that at some future date, although not, of course, in connection with this Bill, the age of foals for export may be raised, perhaps to six months or even older. Here again there may be objections from the crofting communities, because a lot of foals are born in June, and as the markets are held in October a considerable number of four-month old foals are exported. These are far too young. I agree that there is no legal evidence that on the Continent ponies are butchered for human consumption, but in fact a great number are. I have been 503 told by acquaintances on the Continent that there is nothing juicier than a nice steak from a young Shetland pony. I understand that the price is 15s. a lb. I agree that this does not constitute legal evidence, but it goes to show that a great number of ponies are butchered. Before slaughter they may not be very kindly treated; they may be kicked, and shoved into lorries and probably ill-fed. In fact, they may not have a very happy time. My Lords, I have spoken for far longer than I intended. I give this Bill a hearty welcome and sincerely hope that it will have an uninterrupted passage in your Lordships' House.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I should like to support the Second Reading of this Bill and extend to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, my greatest congratulations, not only on his initiative in introducing the first Ponies Bill in your Lordships' House but also, when that Bill came to a standstill, taking the trouble to go to another place and finding someone who would introduce it there. It is due to his hard work that we have this Bill before us to-day.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, or any of your Lordships, will be very satisfied about the minimum prices. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that he felt that the value of £40 was too low, and I heartily agree with him. On the other hand, I agree also with my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard that we should not interrupt the progress of this Bill by tabling any Amendments, and I have no intention of doing so.
Another point one has to consider is that any Bill of this sort, desirable though it may be, is effective only to a certain extent; because once an animal leaves our shores it is no longer under our control. If it is on board a British ship it is in the control of the owners of the ship, but when it is landed on the other side of the Channel for all we know it may have to travel a long distance. We have no control over the conditions in which it travels, nor over the method by which it may be slaughtered. Unfortunately, most European countries are far behind us regarding methods of slaughter. In most of them the poleaxe method is used and that is very far from being humane.
504 Therefore, while this Bill may do a great deal to stop the unnecessary export of animals, it will not prevent some that are exported from meeting a very cruel end. But it will do a great deal of good, and I give it my wholehearted support.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships for very long because, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I think that most of the things which it is necessary to say about this Bill were said during the Second Reading debate on the previous measure last year. I should at the outset declare an interest of a sort as I am a member of the Council of the Welsh Pony and Cob Society and I have bred Welsh mountain ponies. This Bill is a considerable improvement on the Bill which came before your Lordships early last year. In its present form it is about as good as we can get it without knowing in advance exactly what the result will be or how the provisions will work out. I think that it will serve a very useful purpose.
The question of price is a difficult one, because if the limits are set too low the desired purpose will not be achieved; and if they are set too high overseas buyers will be discouraged from coming to some sales. In any case, they will not buy scrub ponies. The breeders may find these ponies left on their hands, and it may be a serious embarrassment to breeders to have to keep less valuable animals through the following winter. That is a danger I see.
Prices depend a lot upon taste and fashion, as between different breeds. There are periods when one breed is in vogue and periods when another breed is in vogue. I know nothing about the level of prices for Shetland ponies, so I cannot judge whether the price limit of £40 is a fair one or not, but I think that in the light of experience, when the system has been working for a while, it may be necessary to differentiate further between ponies of different breeds and to fix different price minima for different breeds besides the general wide classes of Shetlands and others we have in the Bill at present.
I, too, wish the Bill an easy passage. I do not wish to see it delayed, but there are one or two points which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, or the noble 505 Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, who is to speak for the Government, may be able to clear up at this stage so that it will be unnecessary for Amendments to be put down later. One arises in Clause 1, where it mentions "the Minister or, in Scotland, the Secretary of State". I understand that in Wales various functions of the Minister of Agriculture have been taken over by the Secretary of State for Wales, and I wonder if we could be told whether it is desirable to include in this clause a reference to the Secretary of State for Wales.
The other point on which I should like some clarification is this. In the previous Bill we made one or two Amendments to include the transporting of ponies by air as well as by sea. Those references do not seem to be incorporated in the present Bill. I think that there is only one reference to aircraft, in Clause 2(1)(a). In Clause 3 there are references to vessels and ports, but not to aircraft. I do not know whether it can be assumed that a buyer of ponies who wants to buy scrub ponies on the cheap would want to transport them as cheaply as possible and send them by sea rather than by air. It seems a slightly dangerous assumption, and I wonder whether we could have some clarification of that. In the subsection (3) of Clause 4 there is a reference tothe adaptation to air transport of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950by the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954, so it is possible that this point may be covered already. But perhaps we can have some reassurance on that, too.
With regard to the premises at which ponies are to be rested before being exported, are the Government satisfied that the premises at various ports are adequate? I heard a rumour the other day that the lairages either at Great Yarmouth or at Lowestoft (I am not sure which) are to be closed. I should be glad to know whether this is so, because it would seriously affect conditions under which ponies are kept before they are loaded. It is essential that these premises should be adequate.
It is also essential that veterinary inspection should be adequate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, will be able to say that he is satisfied 506 that the provisions for veterinary inspection are adequate, because often when large batches of ponies are being exported a vet does not take a great deal of trouble; he runs his eye round them and does not examine every one closely, as he is supposed to do. Perhaps many of us in his place would do the same. Vets are busy men and may have hundreds of ponies to inspect, and it is only natural if sometimes the inspection is a little perfunctory. But adequate inspection is one of the pillars on which this Bill will sand or fall in practice, and I very much hope that the inspection will be satisfactory. That is all I have to say. I have no wish to hinder the passage of the Bill and if we may have some clarification of the points I have raised we may save ourselves from spending unnecessary time on the Bill at a future stage.
§ 5.17 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
My Lords, I am delighted at the remarks of my noble friend Lord Swansea, for he is a great authority on the Welsh pony. I can assure him that anybody who buys a registered Shetland pony at £100 for the purposes of riding or showing these days is a very wise man. But, as my noble friend says, fashion changes. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, who has always been most helpful to me on any pony matters, will give my noble friend the right answer on the questions of the transporting of ponies by air, and lairage. I can assure him that lairage is always available at any port, provided you employ a shipper of quality.
The object of this Bill is to make as sure as possible that ponies of good quality, properly registered and of sound and suitable age are the only ponies sent for export for the purposes of riding, breeding and showing. Therefore, it is not my intention to speak much further on this Bill. I would only say that in my opinion the prices are wrong. They are too low. But I am a firm believer in a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush. Therefore, let me conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, most sincerely for one of the many good deeds he has done in his lifetime. I hope that the Bill will stand as it is and will not have to be amended or altered. I am sure that if all these wretched scrub ponies, who did not ask 507 to be born and ought not to have been conceived, could speak for themselves, they would express their grateful thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Perhaps they will give him a friendly eye when next the noble Lord attends one of those horrible sales that have been mentioned in the House to-day.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to support the Second Reading of this Bill and, like other noble Lords, I hope that it will have a swift passage into law. But I find some difficulty in responding at once to the appeal which was made by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, backed by my noble friend Lord Somers, that we should not make any Amendments. It is a balance of considerations. On the one hand, if we have a Committee stage we risk losing the great good that this Bill will do. On the other hand, it is the duty of Parliament to see that any measures that Parliament passes are exact, accurate and capable of proper, reasonable interpretation.
There is one point that worries me very much. It arises on Clause 1, which states that the appropriate Minister must be satisfied that the pony is intended for one of three purposes; namely, for breeding, riding or exhibition. That leaves out any utilisation of a pony in harness. I have certain friends abroad who import ponies for use between the shafts. They are not used "for breeding, riding or exhibition". As my noble friend Lord Somers said, once a pony has left these shores it is difficult to trace what use it is put to abroad. I find some difficulty in seeing how the appropriate Minister is going to obtain satisfaction on that point. In the case of my friends abroad, who are scrupulously honest in declaring the intended use of the pony as being for use between the shafts for a light governess cart or trap, so far as I can see the export of such a pony would, under this Bill, be forbidden.
If the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, who is to speak for the Government, or the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, can satisfy me that use between the shafts can come under the umbrella of "breeding, riding or exhibition" then I 508 shall be satisfied. Otherwise I feel that we must be sure of what we are doing when we pass this Bill. I hope that there will not be a Committee stage, but I want to be satisfied on that point before I agree that the Bill does not need amendment.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I should be most unpopular if I detained your Lordships for more than a moment or two, but without wishing to enter into a battle of semantics with the noble Lord I would ask: would not a pony harnessed in the shafts, walking along the road or running round a race track, be on exhibition?
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
It would be an exhibit which I should notice as it went along the road. However, that is a matter for legal interpretation. So far as I read the Bill, the word "exhibition" is not given a capital "E", so that anything which is an exhibit is on exhibition. My admiration for lawyers is such that I am sure they would be able to put up an argument along those lines. However, there is some substance in the point made by the noble Lord.
I rise only to say that when my noble friend Lord Silkin introduced his earlier Bill I supported it. He has now introduced this Bill to-day. and I support this Bill. I say that lest some of the societies should think that I have withdrawn from the stand which I took on the previous occasion. None of us has been able to ask the ponies what they think; but we have been able to ask the various pony societies, and they seem to be wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill, as also do the other animal protection associations. They would like this Bill to go through unamended, not necessarily because they think that every word and detail is perfect, and not because they think that some of the prices are perhaps not open to question, but on purely tactical grounds; namely, that if your Lordships insert Amendments, and the Bill goes back to the other place, they might start arguing all over again, or alternatively, might put forward the plea that they have not time to deal with it.
509 Therefore, I would say that, even if we do not manage to reach perfection in the Bill, we should get this Bill on the Statute Book. We can give it a trial for a year or two, and if as a result of experience we find that there should be some amendment, let us deal with it then. I should not like to delay this Bill, which is now running along the last lap to the Statute Book, on some technical ground.
The only other thing that I want to say (because I have my eye on the clock, and have in mind the journeys your Lordships have to make), is that this Bill is slightly better than the Bill that my noble friend introduced last year. At that time there could have been some reason to doubt the wisdom of the figure which had been fixed for Shetland ponies. I have looked into this matter again, and I think the changed price which has been put down for Shetland ponies makes this a much more workable and equitable Bill than the one my noble friend introduced previously. I sincerely hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading this afternoon and a swift, uninterrupted, unobstructed passage on to the Statute Book.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, if I were the sinister creature that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, seemed to suspect, I should certainly have been subjected to a great deal of pressure by the course of this debate, because not one noble Lord on either side has opposed the Bill: indeed, all of your Lordships who have spoken have been largely in sympathy with it. I should like to join with my noble friend who said that if we have a Committee stage we are in a dilemma, because we may either lose the Bill, or we may not be producing as good a Bill as we should. I do not think that the mere fact of having a Committee stage would necessarily lose the Bill, but if we were to make any Amendments we should certainly he in danger of losing it.
I am not quite certain what the attitude of the Government will be to this Bill. They have substantially amended it in another place, and reading the proceedings in another place I rather got the impression that they would like to amend it still further. Indeed, I would go further and say that they were almost inviting your Lordships to do what on every other occasion they would strongly 510 condemn us for doing; that is, to turn down the Bill altogether. However, we must wait and see what the noble Lord, Lord Hilton, has to say, and whether he is able to take a more welcoming attitude to the Bill than his honourable friend did in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has told us what he considers to be the purpose of the Bill. I liked the definition of my noble friend, Lord Willingdon, of the purpose of the Bill, when he said that it was "to ensure that only ponies of good quality and" (I think he said) "sound health and properly registered, should be exported". The Government have had nearly a year since the last Bill passed through the House, and one would hope and expect that in the meantime they had accumulated more facts to set before your Lordships. I have been struck, for example, by one fact that was mentioned to-day by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, when he said that some 30,000 carcases of horses are exported a year; and I think this was also said in another place. I should imagine that that also includes pony meat, because I do not think there is any separate classification for a pony. I take it that a certain number of ponies are already exported in carcase form.
It is argued that horses which are due for human consumption should be exported only in carcase form. My noble friend, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, suggested that for that purpose we should have a slaughterhouse in Aberdeen to deal with Shetland scrub ponies. I wonder whether he would reconsider this. Who would send a pony to Aberdeen merely to be slaughtered unless it could be also exported in carcase form and unless there was a demand for such export? I hope the noble Lord who will reply will be able to give us some information of the extent to which ponies are exported in carcase form, and as to the extent to which it will he possible to encourage the export of ponies in this way rather than on the hoof.
There is another question which the noble Lord may have had time to look into: that is, the whole question of the evidence that ponies sent abroad on the hoof are inevitably destined for slaughter for human consumption if they are less than a certain value. We know that the prices paid for horse meat on the Continent are high. There are many 511 places from which wild ponies are culled in this country, and no doubt they are broken in, and put to very useful purpose in this country, whether it is for riding, for breeding, for exhibition, or even for work between the shafts. If that is so—and I presume it must be so—and only the less good or less trainable ponies are sent abroad, are we sure that the ponies sent abroad are not being similarly trained for use? There seems to be no evidence about this. We have had a year in which to get the evidence collected and sent to us. When we are considering this matter I should have thought we could not just rely on the same circumstantial evidence that we were considering at this time last year. I have misgivings about this. I hope the noble Lord will be able to remove them.
On the question of values, I do not think my noble friend, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, was right in forecasting that I would suggest that the value for the Shetland breed should be reduced below £40. I understand that the value of ponies bred in Shetland and auctioned there is of the order of between £20 and £30. Of course, by the time they come South and are exported the value would undoubtedly be considerably more. So this was in itself a compromise figure which was suggested in another place. I should not feel justified in urging the Government to alter it, even though those who earn a substantial proportion of their meagre livelihood in the Shetlands by breeding ponies would perhaps like to see a lower figure.
I would ask the noble Lord more about this question of value. Who is to determine the value of the pony? Is it to be a declared value? How is the declared value to be verified and established? Unless there is some well-established method of determining this, I doubt how the Bill can be described as a workable one. Of course, the noble Lord may be able to tell us what is done in the case of heavy horses, vanners and the like. There also a value, a minimum value, is introduced. He may be able to tell us how that value is established. I realise that connected with the establishment of the value is Clause 3, where under this Bill a pony can be legally exported only if it is a registered pony, and if it is accompanied by "a certificate 512 hereinafter called an export certificate". I am told that part of the purpose of putting in this provision is that it would not then be possible—as I believe sometimes happens—for a dealer exporting a batch of ponies, some of which arc of very low value, to put in two or three ponies of high value and then rely on a single price for the whole batch. I am told that this section is designed, in part at any rate, to defeat that kind of operation. I should like to know from the noble Lord whether he thinks that will be the effect of the clause.
I have some reservations about the drafting of this particular clause. I do not quite see why a certificate need be applied for at the time of export. Indeed, that is not what the clause says. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will answer this point himself when he comes to reply. I am sure he does not intend that the export of a breed pony should be contingent and conditional upon the issue of a certificate from the breed society. I ask this because I think that was his previous intention. I believe it was in the previous Bill and it is not now in the present Bill. In other words, all that the breed society is being asked to do is to certify that the pony is on the register—nothing more than that. That could be done at any time. As soon as the pony is placed on the register the owner of the pony could, as I see it, as the Bill is drafted, immediately apply for a certificate. Provided the pony was on the register, I presume—and I hope this is so because I think it would be wrong to place other power in the hands of the breed society—the breed society would have to issue that certificate. It is simply a certificate that the pony is on the register, and that registration could be done at any time, not merely in anticipation of export.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord has read Clause 3(2), which provides that the export certificate in respect of a registered pony shall be delivered at the time of the shipment to the master of the vessel. Does that not answer the noble Lord?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, with respect—and I bow to the noble Lord's greater legal knowledge of interpretation—I should have thought that all the subsection requires is that the certificate be delivered to the master. It does 513 not say by whom or when the certificate has to be delivered. It does not say that the breed society has to issue a certificate which is then directly delivered to the master of the vessel; it does not say that, nor would that be practicable. I do not want to pursue this.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it is a matter which will certainly arise on Committee. I thought that the noble Lord might be able to satisfy me at this stage, and so avoid the necessity for my raising it on Committee. Also by raising it now I may give the noble Lord who is going to reply an opportunity of dealing with this point.
My Lords, as has been said, we are all in agreement with the purposes of this Bill. Clause 2 is unusual in form because it directly instructs the Minister to make regulations; that is a somewhat unusual provision, I think. And it instructs the Minister to make regulations which in general terms he has power to do already. I should like to ask the noble Lord what additional powers this clause gives the Minister which he does not already possess. I might also ask the noble Lord, in view of the opinions that were expressed at the time we debated the previous Ponies Bill last year, why the Minister has not exercised the powers which he has. I think he might very well have exercised those powers and given us in the meantime some information of the experience of alleviating the hardships of ponies as a result of providing them with a rest period before they went abroad. My Lords, that is all I have to say. I am afraid I have asked rather a lot of questions. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to answer some of them, and so avoid my having to ask them again.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Many questions have been asked and I shall not attempt to answer them all. In fact, communications between the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and myself seem to have broken down because he gave me what I thought was a promise that he would give me previous notice of the questions he was going to raise, and somehow this has been overlooked until now. So he 514 will understand if I cannot at this stage give him replies to all his questions. However, I will certainly write to him about the questions to which I do not now have the answers; and this applies also to the questions of other noble Lords.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me on that point? I do not want to leave him under any misunderstanding. Unfortunately, I had to export myself yesterday; I am back again but I had not time to give the noble Lord notice of my questions.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I quite understand the noble Lord's difficulties; he also will understand that I cannot now give him all the information for which he has asked.
On the Second Reading of this Bill's predecessor last year I was able to congratulate my noble friend Lord Silkin on the lucid and persuasive explanation he gave of that Bill. It is again my pleasure to congratulate him to-day on his masterly presentation of the present measure which, although drafted very differently, has essentially the same objectives. I am grateful to my noble friend for acknowledging the help given in another place to improve the Bill. I know from what he said this afternoon that he will agree with me that the Bill is now better than it was before. I am particularly pleased to note all the support that he has received today for his Ponies Bill. He had a lot of support last year, but he has surpassed that to-day and he ought to feel very proud of himself to-night. Every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has given him support, I think, except the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. I am not sure whether he said that he supported the Bill, but he indicated that he did.
I am probably going to be the odd man out. While I shall not oppose the Bill in any way, I am not going to give it the overwhelming support that many of your Lordships have given it in your speeches. The House may recall that I explained in detail why the Government felt unable to support the earlier Bill. It would, I think, not help your Lordships if I were to go over all that ground again. All I would say now is this. Despite the improvements which have been incorporated in the present Bill, it remains a measure which, in our view, in part is based on 515 misconceptions and in part duplicates provisions under the existing law. For these reasons we are still unable to support it.
I feel that it is necessary to restate our views in case it should be thought that the changes which have been made in another place make the Bill more acceptable in principle to us. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the aims of the Bill command a good deal of sympathy in Parliament and outside. Because of this, we have been, and remain, content to leave Parliament to decide on the principles contained in the Bill. As my noble friend has admitted, we have helped the sponsors to improve the Bill. This was necessary because if it was to become law it had to be workable; and I am bound to remind the House that the earlier version was not workable, for a number of technical and procedural reasons. As a result of what has now been done to the Bill, I can assure the House that in its present form it presents a practicable basis on which to implement its intentions.
I will try to deal with one or two of the the points made earlier in the debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans, and the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, were bothered about the allegation that soon quite a lot of pit ponies will be on the market. There is a good deal of truth in this, but we ought not to be too bothered about what will happen to the pit ponies, because if this Bill becomes law it will apply to all ponies. It will provide required safeguards against the export for slaughter of pit ponies as of other ponies. All of us know that the National Coal Board seem to have a very great affection for their pit ponies and will take all steps to ensure that redundant pit ponies are found satisfactory homes. So I do not think we need worry unduly about what will happen to pit ponies when there is no further use for them in the pits.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, the only reason why I was worried was that I was frightened that somebody might try to reduce the minimum value from £70—in which case the pit ponies would presumably go for slaughter abroad—or that the maximum height might be raised from 12 to 12½ hands.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, as I told the House a moment ago, this Bill, if passed, will apply to pit ponies as to all other ponies.
The noble Lord, Lord Swansea, raised a number of questions. He was sad because a reference to the Secretary of State for Wales did not appear anywhere in this Bill. He asked whether we could in any way bring him in. The answer to that is, reluctantly, no. The noble Lord asked also about air transport and whether this is covered in the Bill. The answer is, yes; it is covered.
The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, raised quite a few questions. I warned him earlier that I could not possibly reply to all of them. He wanted to know about valuations of ponies. We propose that professional valuers should, at exporters' expense, value every pony intended for export, so that there cannot be evasion by exporting in batches. I hope that he will be satisfied with that small crumb of comfort.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it would be helpful if at a later time the noble Lord could let us know what the cost per pony of that valuation would be. I should imagine it might be quite considerable.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I will let the noble Lord have information on that point by letter later.
My Lords, I indicated at the beginning of my reply that I would not attempt to answer all the questions that had been raised. I will read the debate very carefully, and I promise that I will send a reply to noble Lords who have not received an answer from me to-night.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords. I should like to reply briefly to some of the points which have been made, and I will be brief. First, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have spoken, including those who have been somewhat critical or doubtful about some of the provisions in the Bill. It is all helpful. Then I should like particularly to thank my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton for the manner in which he has dealt with the Bill, which I am sure is one of which his Department is not particularly enamoured. He has been most helpful in what he has said and he has dealt 517 with a good many of the queries which have been raised.
We have had a rather interesting, though very short, talk about the position of a Bill which is due to be discussed in Committee—of course it will have a Committee stage—and to which it might be desirable to have Amendments. But if we pass those Amendments, we lose the Bill. It is, of course, a question of balance. Supposing the noble Lord is right in saying that the word "harness" ought to be included and that if we had ample time we would put it in the Bill, does he think it worth while running the grave risk of losing the Bill in order to try to get that word in? I should have thought not, but in any case I should have thought that the term "harness" is covered by one of the terms "riding", "breeding" or "exhibition". I do not know which. Further, I would say that this Bill is to be read in conjunction with the Diseases of Animals Act 1950. That Act, in Section 37, does not refer to harness at all. It refers to "breeding" and "exhibition", and we have tried to follow this in the present Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, asked who was to value these ponies. Section 37(3) of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 deals with that particular point. It says that the inspector has to be satisfied. In the case of the present Bill the Minister will be making regulations, and no doubt he will make regulations which will provide for the inspector to decide what is the value. If an inspector is capable of valuing a heavy draft horse or a vanner, mule or jennet, or an ass, it should not be beyond his comprehension to value a pony.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, the noble Lord may be quite right, but I understood his noble friend to say that this would be done by expert valuers and not by the inspector. The provision in the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 simply says:in the opinion of the inspector the horse is not more than …
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, may I put one point to the noble Lord. I think he is being hardly fair to us, because he is putting us in an exceedingly difficult position. On the one hand we want the objectives of the Bill, but on the other hand he is saying to us 518 that we must agree that Parliament should pass an inadequately or badly drafted Bill. Personally, I would prefer Parliament to pass good legislation, even at the risk of losing something which we hope there would be a further opportunity of getting at some future date, rather than to let Parliament pass sloppy Bills which are incomplete and inadequate in their drafting.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord does not say that I have been unfair to him. I have not. I have faced up to the issues as fairly as I possibly can.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, in my view the points which have been raised are frivolous or trivial. I really do think they are trivial and therefore I am throwing that into the balance. But it will be for the House, when in Committee, to decide this for itself. Noble Lords will be free to put down Amendments to the Bill; the Committee will be free to discuss those Amendments, and I am only uttering a warning that in all the circumstances I feel that I would resist any Amendment that has been foreshadowed so far. There may be an Amendment which is so shattering and which goes right to the root of the Bill that one would not dream of passing the Bill without making such an Amendment. But so far, from the points which have been raised in the discussion this afternoon, I cannot see that there is likely to be any Amendment which would justify holding up this Bill in order that it might be passed in some indefinite future Session.
I do not know that there is anything else I need to say. I am glad that my noble friend is not asking your Lordships to reject this Bill. It would have been an interesting constitutional point to ask your Lordships to reject a Bill which has had an unopposed acceptance in another place.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.