HL Deb 22 November 1973 vol 346 cc1244-62

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now read a second time. The main objective of the Bill is to provide the powers necessary for the effective handling of rabies outbreaks outside quarantine. Rabies is a disease to which most mammals ore sus- ceptible. It is caused by a virus affecting the central nervous system and is most commonly transmitted by a bite. Once the disease has developed in humans it has almost without exception proved fatal. Humans who have been bitten by infected animals can be vaccinated after the incident. This may prevent the development of the disease, but involves a highly unpleasant series of injections which, even if rabies does not develop, can have serious side-effects. The incubation period of the disease can be a long one—even up to 12 months. So that any person exposed to infection faces at the very least a long period of extreme worry.

Apart from two cases in dogs in 1969 and 1970, Great Britain has been free of the disease outside quarantine since 1922. Following these two cases, and in the light of the spread of rabies across the Continent of Europe, a Committee of Inquiry on Rabies, with Mr. Ronald Waterhouse, Q.C., as Chairman, was appointed in April, 1970, by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Secretary of State for Scotland. The Committee's terms of reference were: To review the policy and precautions against rabies in Great Britain and to make recommendations. The Committee's excellent Final Report was submitted to Ministers in May, 1971. In their introduction to the Report the Committee drew attention to the rabies situation on the Continent and to the apparent inevitability that the disease would reach the Channel coast. The official French forecasts then indicated that wildlife rabies spread by foxes could be close to the Channel coast by 1980. The Committee pointed to the fact that, whereas there had always been grave risk of introduction of the disease through dogs and cats imported from countries with urban rabies, the risk had become increasingly serious from dogs and cats imported from Europe. They also drew attention to the risk of introducing the disease through other imported species of mammal, many of which were not at that time subject to quarantine control. In short, the Report opened with a clear message that the risk that any dog, cat, or other mammal entering this country might be infected with rabies was steadily increasing.

Since the Committee reported, the situation in France has deteriorated. The spread of the disease has continued. Total recorded cases of rabies in France in 1970 were 512, of which 297 were cases of rabies in foxes. In 1971 the figure rose to 883 cases, of which 533 were in foxes. In 1972 the figure rose to 1,008, of which 722 were foxes. In the first eight months of 1973 the figures were 1,440, of which 1,226 were in foxes, indicating that the incidence of the disease in 1973 is running at about twice the level it was in 1972. The French authorities estimate that the number of actual deaths from rabies in wild animals has probably exceeded the number of deaths recorded by at least five times— the majority simply dying unobserved in the wild.

The Waterhouse Committee's consideration of the problem and their recommendations fell into two parts. First, they looked at the adequacy, in the face of the increasing risk, of our existing safeguards against entry of the disease. Secondly, accepting the unpalatable fact that, no matter what measures they recommended as desirable to strengthen existing safeguards, the risk of entry could not be eliminated, they considered the measures needed to deal with rabies outbreaks if they occurred, and particularly if they occurred in the wildlife.

Since the Committee reported, quarantine controls have been applied to a much wider range of mammals; new conditions have been introduced for authorised quarantine premises, and controls over the carrying of quarantine animals have been tightened. I think that reviewing and revising our quarantine regulations and import controls will inevitably be a continuing process to take account of increased knowledge and changing conditions and that we shall never reach the stage of being wholly satisfied with the degree of protection we have achieved. But with few exceptions the Waterhouse recommendations concerning the strengthening of existing safeguards have been implemented, and this Bill is intended to pave the way for implementation of the second group of recommendations for dealing with outbreaks outside quarantine.

As can be seen from the figures I have already given, the animal mainly responsible for the spread of the disease on the Continent has been the fox. It is highly susceptible and has the ability both to spread the disease and to act as a reservoir of it. The Waterhouse Committee expressed the view that, whatever the original source of an outbreak of rabies in Great Britain, the fox would probably become the main reservoir of the disease if it once became established in the wildlife. Events since the Committee reported have added strength to this view. The probability is, therefore, that, to have any hopes of being effective, measures to eradicate the disease from wildlife would have to he based on the reduction of the fox population in and around the area of infection. Any Government would be seriously inhibited if they had to attempt to tackle such a task within the confines of the powers at present available to them under existing diseases of animals legislation. This is the gap we are trying to fill with the Bill.

It may be helpful if I now outline the main provisions in the Bill and explain its relationship with the Diseases of Animals Act 1950. This Act provides extensive powers for the protection of our animal health and many of the measures that would be needed to deal with a rabies outbreak are already covered by it. But it was clearly drafted with farm animals and farm diseases uppermost in mind and, in so far as rabies was concerned, with urban rabies in domestic dogs and cats. Not surprisingly therefore among its main provisions for dealing with outbreaks, there is no provision for the entry on to land to destroy wildlife, nor does it cover fully other necessary actions for dealing with the type of rabies problem we might encounter here if we experienced similar outbreaks to those in France and other parts of the Continent.

Each clause in the new Bill relates to a corresponding section of the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 and supplements the general Order-making powers in that section for the purpose of dealing with rabies. The Bill is enabling legislation only and will require Orders to put it into effect. Such Orders would be made under the Diseases of Animals Act as extended by the powers in this Bill.

Clauses 1 and 2 of the Pill contain the main additional provisions needed for handling rabies outbreaks. Clause I enables the destruction of foxes and, if necessary, other wild mammals not in captivity to be provided for in an Order declaring an infected area; also for an Order to include powers to enter land to carry out such destruction. Foxes are specified in the Bill as the most likely species against which action would be necessary. Although all mammals are believed to be susceptible, overseas experience, particularly in Denmark, where measures along the lines of those to be provided in this Bill have been successfully operated, has been that if the fox population in and around a rabies infected area can be reduced to below a certain threshold, the disease tends to burn itself out altogether. In describing the methods of destruction necessary to deal with the fox population—mainly the gassing of fox-holes and the use of poison baits—the Waterhouse Committee draw attention to the statutory controls over the use of poisons which would need to be overriden for an effective campaign to be mounted. They also referred to the possibility, in exceptional circumstances (for example, in mountainous regions) that the use of gin traps, normally prohibited, might be necessary to deal effectively with foxes, despite the obvious humanitarian objections. This provision is based on the view, not disputed by anyone who commented on the Waterhouse Committee's Report, that such measures would be justifiable for the protection of our wildlife, our domestic animal population and our human population against the threat of rabies.

There should be no need to make a direct target of other species of wild animal in the area, although it has to be recognised that some would inevitably be destroyed along with the foxes. It also has to be borne in mind that powers can be taken under existing legislation to destroy animals infected with rabies, suspected of being infected or which have been in direct contact with infected animals. In different parts of the world, species other than foxes have demonstrated a capacity to hold and spread the disease—for example, bats and skunks—. and the behaviour of the rabies virus and its ability to transfer from one species to another is by no means predictable. The powers available to those dealing with an outbreak, therefore, need to be flexible enough to enable them to deal urgently with both the expected and the unexpected situation.

Clause 1 deals with wild animals not in captivity and is complemented by Clause 2 which provides powers for dealing with domestic animals, either confined or stray, and wild species held in captivity—in zoos and safari parks, for example. It extends the powers at present available for applying controls to the domestic animal population and wild animals in captivity in rabies-infected areas. It would enable Orders to be made to confine, control and require vaccination of such animals. It would also enable stray animals to be dealt with. This clause also enables an Order to be made to provide for infected areas to be divided into zones and for different measures to be applied in different zones. This is necessary because the existing legislation as supplemented by the new powers would provide for a battery of measures to deal with different situations and the controllers of an anti-rabies campaign would obviously need the maximum flexibility to contain any measures taken strictly to the areas where they were considered necessary.

Clause 4 is the other provision in the Bill concerned with the handling of outbreaks and places an obligation on any person who knows or suspects that an animal is affected with rabies to report the fact. Present legislation places the obligation to notify only on the owner or person in charge of such an animal and, as the measures in the Bill are largely concerned with wild animals not owned or in anybody's charge, any person might be the first or only person to see an animal at large showing rabies symptoms. The earliest possible notification of cases would, of course, be a critical factor in the success of a rabies eradication campaign.

I mentioned that the majority of the Waterhouse Committee recommendations concerning preventive measures against entry of the disease had been implemented under existing legislation. The opportunity is, however, being taken in the Bill to deal with two weaknesses in our rabies defences and these are dealt with in Clauses 3 and 5. The main intention of Clause 3 (not a Waterhouse recommendation) is to enable us to control the keeping and importation of rabies virus and to provide for similar quarantine arrangements to be required for native animals used in experimental work involving rabies virus, as are applied to imported rabies-susceptible animals. The Ministry of Agriculture has had consultations with research institutes handling rabies virus and they are, of course, fully aware of the hazards involved and already take precautions in the handling of the materials. Nevertheless, it is an inconsistency in the context of our overall rabies controls and a potential threat to security that institutes handling the virus are not presently subject to any statutory controls. We are confident that adequate controls can be applied without inhibiting necessary research in any way.

Clause 5 provides for the destruction of animals illegally landed in Great Britain. I think it is generally accepted that the illegal landing of animals, whether deliberately or unknowingly, represents the biggest threat to our rabies security. The Waterhouse Committee recommended that such animals should be confined immediately for possible destruction or re-export, and allowed into quarantine only if owners furnished a satisfactory reason for the non-observance of the regulations. At present, owners or carriers of such animals are offered the alternatives of re-export, destruction, or direction to quarantine premises. But immediate re-export is not generally feasible and if quarantine accommodation is not available, which is frequently the case, destruction of the animal is the only alternative. Existing legislation, however, does not empower the responsible authorities to destroy such animals, other than with the owner's consent.

After the Waterhouse Committee Report was published, all persons and organisations who had given evidence to the Committee were asked to comment. These organisations included virtually all the leading bodies concerned with animal health, welfare, conservation and related matters. The comments received by the Ministry were overwhelmingly in favour of the Report and few qualifications were made about even the most drastic measures that the Committee thought necessary.

My Lords, I would not wish to underestimate the serious nature of certain of the powers which Her Majesty's Government are seeking to take in this Bill. In almost any other context than rabies control they would be totally unacceptable. But I think that everybody with knowledge of the subject recognises the high priority that should be accorded to preserving the rabies-free status which this country has enjoyed for so long and to providing the powers necessary to stamp out this terrible disease, if it ever occurs, as quickly as possible. Further research and preparation will be necessary to formulate the detailed orders which will be needed to implement the powers in the Bill, and the views of interests concerned or affected will be sought.

There are those who say that because of the Continental situation it is inevitable that the disease will in due course establish itself in this country and that rabies outbreaks will become part of our way of life. The quarantine controls and the other safeguards which we have applied so successfully over the years have restricted the number of outbreaks outside quarantine to two since 1922. These controls have been strengthened in many respects since the Waterhouse Committee reported to counter the increasing risks. While it is only prudent to take the powers set out in this Bill as an insurance against our defences being breached, I certainly hope that our vigilance and the co-operation of the vast majority of our citizens will continue to be rewarded with freedom from the disease. If it should penetrate our first line of defence then, provided that we can act quickly and effectively, we can stamp it out. Denmark has twice managed to do this by methods similar to those which we are proposing. While I would emphasise the need to take the powers proposed in this Bill, I sincerely hope that we shall not have any immediate need to use them. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(Earl Ferrers.)

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hoy, who normally speaks for us on this side of the House on agricultural matters, has unfortunately had to leave your Lordships' House and proceed North, but he has asked me to extend a very warm welcome to this Bill. I am not a farmer, nor have I any medical knowledge, but I perhaps may be the only one in your Lordships' House who has had some close contact with rabies. Many years ago in Bangkok a friend of mine was bitten by a dog, and I took that young man to the hospital and saw the first of the medical inoculations—one of the most unpleasant forms of medical treatment I can imagine. But during that short period at the hospital I saw a person in the last throes, the last hours prior to death, through rabies. That is many years ago, and I can say to your Lordships that I shall never forget the circumstances in which that death occurred.

I have no sympathy with anyone, whatever may be the circumstances, who endangers the health of this country by illegally bringing into this country animals that have not gone through the proper form of quarantine and check. If I were a magistrate I would have no mercy. I would look up the maximum penalty that was provided and would administer it, whatever the circumstances. Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord, since we are dealing with a Bill which has a parent Act, whether the penalties set cut in the Act, since it was passed in 1950, are to-day adequate as a deterrent, taking into account the seriousness of the disease and of the many things that flow from it. One must recognise that if rabies is brought here very considerable expense is incurred. Again, when I was living in Singapore some stupid woman brought in a dog from Malaya. Singapore, like ourselves, had been relatively free from rabies. This person brought the dog over the causeway hidden in the boot of a car. The cost of dealing with the rabies epidemic that flowed from it was very considerable. Apart from the whole system of checks, the medical examinations and the veterinary work, there was also the bringing in of the inoculation serum and the like. Therefore, apart from the disease and its effect on animals and individuals, one has to take into account what could be a heavy cost.

The figures which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has given have clearly shown how free we have been—two cases since 1922. This shows that our present defences are adequate, and we should do all we can to make those defences even stronger in order to maintain this high degree of immunity. Unfortunately, I have not been able to look at the principal Act, but Clause 4 of the Bill refers to the principal Act, and reads— (1A) Any person who knows or suspects that an animal (whether in captivity or not) is affected with rabies shall give notice of that fact to a constable… I think that is very satisfactory. It then goes on— unless— (a) he believes on reasonable grounds that another person has given notice under this section in respect of that animal… I personally have a feeling that in the light of the seriousness of this matter it is the duty of any individual who suspects that there is rabies, either in an animal that is wild or in an animal that is in captivity, to report it before other animals have been infected. The new subsection (1A) goes on: and, if the animal is in his possession or under his charge, shall as far as practicable keep the animal separate from other animals. I have a feeling that this rather weakens the earlier words of the subsection. I may be wrong, but I would ask the noble Earl to look at this. I believe that we should make these rules as tight as possible so that there can be no misunderstanding or loophole in the notification where a person suspects rabies is in existence.

At the end of the Bill, as is customary we read: This Act does not extend to Northern Ireland. I am not quite certain of the regulations and the legislation in terms of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, and I can see difficulties here. But I wonder whether the noble Lord can give any indication of our control of animals moving from Northern Ireland into Britain, and whether the Government intend to see that in Northern Ireland similar legislation will be enacted. My Lords, I may have spoken rather strongly on this matter, but I believe that everything possible should be done to keep this country immune from this terrible disease no matter what the expense or what people may feel about the hardships arising perhaps from the loss of their favourite animal.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has spoken in such firm tones and I hope that attention will be paid to his recommendations about intimating to the police. I welcome the Bill and I think the whole veterinary profession welcomes it. There is an increasing danger of infection from the Continent and we must congratulate the Government upon taking time by the forelock.

There is a point in Clause I about which I should like some illumination. Line 10 at the end of the first paragraph reads: —such other wild mammals as may be prescribed by the order (not in either case being animals held in captivity). I should like a definition of "captivity". I have been unable to find it in the Diseases of Animals Act or in the previous Rabies Order. I think it could arise very acutely in relation to safari parks. In safari parks, the only animal in captivity is the human in his car. The other animals are roaming and there are holes in the fences which small animals can get through. It conjures up in my mind the vision of a rabid lion in a safari park attacking a car. I do not think the captive would live very long—certainly no longer than they did in the old Roman days. Incidentally, certain zoos in which the animals are kept captive can be infected because they have parts which are open to access to the outside world. In the Edinburgh Zoo, for example, foxes pass in and out freely, so I think we should look at this point again at the Committee stage.

Another mammal which could cause considerable trouble in the event of rabies getting into the country is the bat. The bat is able to fly over the fences of the safari parks, and if there was an infection there might be great difficulty in containing it. It might well be advisable to slaughter animals in safari parks if it was not possible to arrange for them to he put into absolute captivity during an outbreak of rabies. There is a particular species of bat which is not bred in this country but which certain people try to import. It rejoices in the name of the vampire bat, and if the vampire bat got into the country there could be a great deal of trouble. At the present moment, according to the Statutory Instrument 1971 vampire bats must go into quarantine. If it is possible, I should like to know whether there have been any attempts to import vampire bats, and, if so, how many vampire bats there are in quarantine at this present moment.

With regard to authorising the use of any illegal methods of destruction, I am glad that the rigid provision has been put in the Bill, and I hope it will also include permission to shoot the fox. Again, my Lords, I congratulate the Government on their foresight and I should like to apologise to the House because I have an urgent desire to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, to Scotland as quickly as possible, and that may prevent me from attending the end of this debate.


My Lords, may I crave your indulgence to make one remark?


No, I am afraid not.


I beg your pardon, my Lords.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I want to make only a brief intervention in this debate, but I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for introducing this extremely valuable little Bill, which I am quite sure nobody could object to at all. There is not a great deal I want to say which has not already been said. I admired what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has said and I agree with the doubts that he has expressed. The vampire bat is a curious carrier of rabies because it bites when it is hungry but not when it is rabid, so what may appear to be a perfectly normal vampire hat can in fact infect you with rabies if it bites you.

Before beginning our debate on the Bill I was hoping to get an assurance from the Government, first, that they would not even think about relaxing quarantine regulations for animals which are being imported into this country. My doubts have been greatly diminished by what the noble Earl has said, so I no longer think that that is a possibility. Second, there has been a great deal of talk about the value of vaccines, particularly with dogs that are imported into this country. One of the dogs which developed rabies when it came into this country, and was taken to Newmarket in 1970, was supposed to have been vaccinated three times in Pakistan before it came here. It was in quarantine for the proper period of six months but it developed rabies about a fortnight after it came out of quarantine, which shows that although vaccination may be a valuable thing to do it does not afford complete protection. If somebody tried to argue that there was no need for quarantine because the animal which had been imported had been vaccinated, I think that argument would not go down very well.

I have two other points that I should like to raise. One is that a great many more rare and exotic animals are now being imported as pets, and I suppose for experimental work also, but I trust that, if anything, the powers of quarantine will be extended rather than restricted. One reason I have for saying that is that I remember that quite a long time ago there was a disease of parrots called psittacosis. It was made difficult to import a parrot, and parrots which died of this disease had to be sent to a special laboratory for examination because the disease could be caught by human beings and was sometimes fatal: it was a form of pneumonia. These regulations were relaxed some time after the War, but I have seen reports in the Press recently that there have been cases of psittacosis arising among people in this country, and one wonders whether it was a good thing to have made that relaxation in favour of people bringing parrots into this country if it is going to bring back that unpleasant disease. My Lords, I have been greatly comforted by what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said in introducing this Bill and I trust the Government will continue along these lines.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill. My only query is as to whether it goes far enough. In Clause 1(2)(a) powers for entering on land are giver but they specifically exclude dwelling houses. I think it is well known that foxes, in particular, if they are being hunted or in any way chased, are quite liable to go into any place where they think they can obtain shelter. Many have been known to go into dwelling houses and into barns and buildings adjoining dwelling houses. Perhaps the Government can tell us why these have been excluded.

Another query I should like to raise is about the provision to use gin traps, poisons and so on. Could some words be written into the Bill to provide that when these uses are made of such things the utmost publicity should be given in the area, because many people have animals, such as cats, which roam, and it would be most unfortunate if some pet was caught in a gin trap. I know these traps will be used only in extreme cases, and I am not objecting to their use, but I should like to have an assurance that the widest possible publicity will be given to their use in any particular area. In Clause 2(1)(e) again, dwelling houses have been omitted. I think dwelling houses might well be included in this clause. I believe the noble Earl said that in fact the right existed. The other aim was the power to destroy animals which could have been in contact with other rabid animals. This would mainly apply to the domestic dog or cat which might roam; but could the noble Earl give some indication as to where that power is, because I have been unable to see under which part of the Act it applies.

My Lords, I must join with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in inquiring whether the noble Earl considers that the penalties under the main Act, drafted in past years, are really sufficient. This is a terrible disease, and anybody who tries to thwart any purpose of the Act deserves very heavy penalty under the law. May I again welcome this Bill? I think it is a very good thing.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, may I apologise for my previous error in trying to intervene? May I say to noble Lords present, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that I came across a young American professor in Leeds who has actually cured a boy of rabies, so I feel there is hope that there will not be a repetition of the circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, related to us. With regard to Scotland, we hope that rabies has not yet arrived there. With the exception of my noble friend Lord Balerno, we are very short of sufficient unspeakable to chase the uneatable. As the matter seems to rest on fox destruction, we shall obviously need much more encouragement given to fox destruction societies, and, as has been indicated by a noble Lord, we must have a much more efficient kind of trap. We shall have to invite the Forestry Commission to kill even more foxes in their vast forests.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill. We cannot have tight enough regulations on the import of animals into this country. I have a slight connection with this Bill. Many of your Lordships think that it is a brand new Bill. I do not want to he pompous, but in 1895, under the new Government of Lord Salisbury, my ancestor, Walter Long, became the President of the Board of Agriculture. It was soon after that that a dog ran amok and bit four children in a playground, and those four children subsequently died. As your Lordships can imagine, there was a furore in the country about it. My grandfather went on a visit to his doctor in Warminster, and the doctor said to him, "Mr. Walter, there is only one way to cure rabies, or hydrophobia". My grandfather asked him, "What may that be?", and the doctor replied, "There should be quarantines for imported dogs, and muzzling of dogs in this country". My grandfather turned to the doctor and, in modern terms, said, "You must be joking. You will lose me my Cabinet seat and everything else." But the doctor said, "That is the way you will cure this disease".

My grandfather came back to the Cabinet and told its members what he was going to do, and he did it. He was extremely unpopular. This was in the Victorian era, when women went around with little dogs, with blue and red ribbons tied to them, under their arms, and those women refused to speak to my grandfather. A large petition was raised, with many thousands of names, and it was sent to him. He felt that the canine breed would be fairly secure from then on. However, after five years of being very unpopular, he did, in fact, put a stop to rabies in this country. I do not want to boast about it, but I felt your Lordships would like to know the background. This Bill is not absolutely new. It comes from the period of one of my ancestors.

My Lords, we have heard that this disease of hydrophobia, or rabies as we know it, is moving slowly from Eastern Europe to Western Europe. It is extraordinary how quickly the disease moves. I want to ask my noble friend Lord Ferrers whether we have really broached this subject fairly and squarely to our Common Market partners. Do they know our regulations correctly? Do we know how their veterinary surgeons and their medical world act on this matter in their own countries? Would it not be possible to warn them of our anxieties over this disease?—because we simply and utterly do not want it in this country, having stamped it out from the beginning of the century. That is all I want to say. I am proud that this matter has been brought up, and glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has insinuated that the penalty must be severe for everyone. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, has also said the same thing. It is extremely important that there should be penalties for this offence. I am not a veterinary surgeon, nor am I in the medical profession, but I know that the disease is vile, and the cure is equally vile. Through this Bill we are on our guard so that rabies shall not be allowed to come from Europe to this country.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful indeed for the welcome that this Bill has received. I think that every noble Lord who has spoken has emphasised the vileness of this disease. I am more than grateful to know that from all sides of the House there is support for the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd described, in I thought a quite graphic fashion, his personal experience of having seen a person with this disease. I quite understood it when he said that he would never forget the sight; indeed, it must have been perfectly horrible. Having seen that disease in a human being, he was concerned, quite rightly, as to whether the disease could be imported into this country by, as he explained, dogs in cars, like the instance in Singapore, and whether the penalties are adequate. The Diseases of Animals Act, 1950, which covers the penalties, provides for a fine of £400 for a first offence. The Waterhouse Committee drew attention to the fact that the average fine imposed at the time they reported had been £30, as compared with the cost of £75 for quarantining a dog. They said that substantially increased fines would be necessary in future if prosecution was to be an effective deterrent, since the average cost of quarantining a dog had risen to about £150 but the average fine imposed had risen to only about £50. Here we come to the point where Parliament can say what the fines are. It is up to Parliament to say what the level of fines should be, and I hope that magistrates reading reports of this debate may be inclined to impose heavier fines than previously. Some magistrates have recently taken a more serious view of this offence. Two people were fined £200 at Folkestone a short while ago for smuggling in a dog. There was a Scottish case of dog-smuggling which drew a fine of only £20. The general level of fines does remain disappointingly low. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was in favour of the clause which enforces upon people the duty to report the fact that they have seen a rabid animal. Exclusions which are put into this Bill are really twofold. One is that if a number of people see a rabid dog it is incumbent upon only one to report it. To take the example of a rabid dog seen in a village by a number of people who were rushing out of its way, if one reported the fact it would be absurd to suggest that all the others were contravening the law if they too did not report it. We will certainly look at the point again and take note of it before the next stage of the Bill. With regard to Northern Ireland, they have been kept in touch wtih the proposals in this legislation and they are considering whether there should be any additional legislation there.

It is always fascinating to listen to my noble friend Lord Balerno, even when he has not referred back to Scotland. He always produces something not only witty and humorous, but extremely pithy. I am bound to say that it had never occurred to me that the only person in captivity in a safari park would be the visitor in his motor car. It was certainly not the intention that he should be covered by this Bill, and I do not believe that he would be, but we will certainly look again at the point to make certain that there is no slip-up there. Safari park animals would be in captivity for the purposes of this Bill, and they could be subject to such additional controls and refinements as are considered necessary under Clause 2. Because of the conditions applying in those kinds of park, one would expect a pretty early diagnosis of the disease and the ability to segregate infected animals. We will certainly ensure that the point to which my noble friend referred is covered.

My noble friend also referred to bats. Of course indigenous bats do not pose any particular dangers, as there is no rabies in this country. My noble friend was concerned with vampire bats. I can assure him that no vampire bats have been imported since these restrictions have been in force and strengthened. It is possible that some were imported earlier, but, of course, as he knows very well, these are tropical animals; they cannot be just imported and allowed to fly around, because they would not survive. They would only be imported for places where they were kept in captivity. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, also referred to exotic animals, and I can assure him that as a result of the Waterhouse Committee recommendations the requirements for quarantine have been extended to a very wide range of these animals.

My noble friend Lord de Clifford was worried about dwelling houses not being incorporated in this Bill. I understand his concern, but I can assure him there is no need to put this power in the Bill, because the diseases of animals inspectors already have power under Section 73 of the Diseases of Animals Act to enter any building where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting rabies exist. So the power my noble friend would like to see in the Bill is already in the hands of the inspectors.

I was interested by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Long about his grandfather's first encounter with this subject. Of course, that was a very unpopular measure because people did not like leashing their animals. But in fact it worked, and it was as a result of that measure that we were able to get rid of rabies, which at that time was endemic in this country.


My Lords, I was most interested in the figures with regard to penalties and as to those that some magistrates have recently imposed. I must say I find them quite startling having regard to the severity and viru lence of this particular disease and its increasing prevalence in Europe. I wonder whether the noble Earl would have conversations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to see whether it would not be right and proper in the light of circumstances to have a mandatory sentence, to make it quite clear that there is now a severe deterrent to anyone bringing animals into this country unlawfully.


My Lords, I shall certainly see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is informed of the noble Lord's views. I am very grateful to those who have spoken and for the welcome that has been given to this Bill.

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