HL Deb 19 July 1974 vol 353 cc1323-30

11.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In asking your Lordships' to give the Bill a Second Reading we seek to close a loophole in the original Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 which required licensing of boarding kennels by local authorities. The original Act was passed because it was found by many people that the standard of dog boarding was far below that required and to ensure their good health. Also, in many cases, considerable cruelty was involved. Unfortunately, when that Act was passed, Clause 5(1)(a) was so phrased that any person who wished to evade inspection and licensing—the inspection had to take place before licensing—used the clause as a loophole.

A person who did not wish to have his kennels inspected had only to prove that his main business was other than the boarding of dogs. Then such a person was free to board dogs without the local authority having any right of inspection or the person needing a licence. This evasion has caused great concern to animal welfare organisations, particularly the National Canine Defence League, who have been trying to close the loop-hole for many years.

I do not propose to weary your Lord-ships by reciting the number of cases that have been found where dogs have been boarded in the most appalling circumstances. However, cases have been discovered where dogs have been boarded in piggeries and where the farmer has claimed he was a pig farmer and did not need a licence or inspection. There was also a case of a breeder of thoroughbred dogs who found some derelict cottages which he used for boarding facilities on the side. In both cases the council knew of the circumstances, but were unable to do anything because the main business of the people involved was other than boarding.

I have knowledge of a wood merchant, a fishmonger, certain hoteliers and pet shops doing this. They do it as a subsidiary to their main occupation. As a result, they neither require inspection nor licensing. If they can prove that they are not engaging in this activity as their main occupation, then even ladies' hairdressers or farmers could do it. I am not saying that everyone who boards dogs as a subsidiary to their main business treats them cruelly or with lack of care. I and others—as well as the societies—feel that there is great need for the standards which are required for someone who runs a main business of boarding dogs to apply to those who board them as a subsidiary business.

Local authorities must be in a position to inspect, either with the aid of vets or with their own officers, so that the main provisions which are required in the Bill of 1963 can be applied to everyone, and that neither through ignorance nor in any other way may people avoid coming up to these standards. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook, who cannot be here to-day, supports the principle of the Bill, but does not consider it goes far enough. He wishes to increase the inspecting powers under the Bill. I would probably agree with him.

My Lords, I should like to say one word as to why we have omitted the greyhound tracks and premises under the Betting and Lotteries Act 1963. If this requirement had been left in this Bill, they would have been doubly inspected. The National Greyhound Racing Society have a very adequate inspection system in operation in all the establishments and tracks controlled by them, and this is giving very good results. I repeat that I am not saying that everyone who boards dogs without a licence is treating them cruelly and without care but without any doubt at all there are some who are doing this. I say again that we are trying to ensure that there is one standard of inspection and licensing for every person who boards dogs in this country. Meanwhile, I would say to the public that when boarding dogs they should ask whether the kennels are licensed and, if they are not, they should themselves inspect the kennels before boarding their dogs, there, and satisfy themselves that the standard is up to that which they want for their dogs. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

11.42 a.m.


My Lords I am sure we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for his careful explanation of the purpose of his Bill, and for giving the House an opportunity to consider the present statutory position of animal boarding kennels. I listened with much interest to his speech, because I have to confess that before to-day I was by no means clear about the purpose of the amendment to the 1963 Act—which of course is the Animal Boarding Establishments Act—which he is seeking to make through his Bill.

My Lords, the 1963 Act provides, of course, for a system of licensing and inspection by local authorities of establishments where dogs and cats—that is, "animals" for the purpose of the Act—are taken in for boarding as a business. Such establishmets are required to provide, among other things, adequate accommodation, facilities for exercise, food, drink and bedding material, and they must take all necessary precautions against disease and fire. As your Lordships will know, the Act had its origin in 1963 in another place as a Private Member's measure—a similar Bill had been sponsored by the R.S.P.C.A. as early as 1956—and it was designed to supplement the provisions of the general law protecting animals from cruelty and suffering by providing specific safeguards against unsatisfactory boarding establishments which had, I believe, been causing the R.S.P.C.A. concern for some time—and here I should like to pay a tribute to the R.S.P.C.A. This additional legislation in respect of animal boarding establishments did very much what the Pet Animals Act 1951 had done earlier in respect of pet shops.

My Lords, the 1963 Act was generally welcomed and seems broadly to have been effective in achieving its main purpose of controlling those who run animal boarding establishments as a business. The Bill before the House to-day focuses attention upon one part of the 1963 Act; that is, subsection (1) of Section 5, which defines a boarding establishment for the purposes of the Act. By adding some words to one part of the first proviso to Section 5(1), it effectively alters the definition of a boarding establishment, and in so doing modifies the scope of the Act. It is essential, therefore, I suggest, for us to understand the purpose of the proposed amendment and to weigh its implications.

Section 5(1) defines keeping a boarding establishment for animals as carrying on at premises of any nature (including a private dwelling) a business of providing accommodation for other people's animals; but it makes the proviso that a person shall not be deemed to keep a boarding establishment by reason only of his providing accommodation for animals in connection with a business of which the provision of accommodation is not the main activity. The purpose of the proviso, which was added to the original Bill after its introduction, is to exclude from the licensing system such persons or organisations as hoteliers, British Rail, airlines and dog tracks which, incidental to their main business, make accommodation available at a charge for their clients' animals. In other words, the definition of a boarding establishment in the Act was designed to confine the scope of the statutory licensing system to the area where there was at that time evidence of abuses; that is, to establishments that were making a business out of providing accommodation for cats and dogs—boarding kennels in the generally accepted sense of the term.

The sponsors of the 1963 Act made it clear that this was their intention. The amendment in the Bill would appear to remove the exemption for those places where accommodation is provided incidentally to the main business, since the effect of the addition to proviso (a) in Section 5(1) of the Act would be to require to be licensed under the Act persons who provide at a charge and overnight any accommodation for animals (whether it is in connection with their main business or not) except, of course, for persons providing accommodation at dog tracks, which was explained by the noble Lord. My Lords, some weeks ago, I believe, it was reported in the Press that the purpose of the Bill was to remedy a loophole in the 1963 Act; and, indeed, the noble Lord has said to-day that that is its purpose. The Act was alleged to allow any person who runs some other business to take money for accepting other people's animals and housing them—that is, for boarding them in the accepted sense—without being subject to the licensing and inspection requirements which the Act lays down. It was suggested that this has given rise to some kennel owners being able to board cats and dogs under very poor conditions with impunity. I am somewhat puzzled by this since, as I understand it, the need for the amendment to the Act which is proposed seems to be based upon a misconstruction of subsection (1) of Section 5 of the Act.

The Act at present requires to be licensed any person who takes in animals for boarding at a fee, whatever other business or businesses he conducts on the same premises and whatever their scale, provided that he does not take in the animals in connection with (that is, as an incident of) his other business, and that the other business does not have as its main activity the boarding of animals. For example, a market gardener who uses a spare piece of land for boarding kennels could not avoid having to be licensed on the grounds that his main business is market gardening. He provides accommodation for animals at a fee; he does not do so in connection with his market gardening business, and accordingly the exemption given by the proviso does not apply to him. Nor, my Lords, would it apply to the wood merchant quoted by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford; nor, indeed, to ladies' hairdressers, farmers or anyone else.

My Lords, if, therefore, there are kennels or other establishments providing accommodation of inadequate standard at the present time, I would suggest that they do not exist because of a loophole in the Act, but rather because the provisions of the Act are not being fully enforced; and I cannot at present see how the position would be remedied by the proposed amendment to the Act embodied in the noble Lord's Bill.

That is one point: the other point, of course, is the effects of the Bill itself and I should like to turn to those briefly. The main effect would be that it would remove the exemption under the 1963 Act from the licensing system for those persons who provide at a charge overnight accommodation for animals as an incidental to their main business. One thinks immediately of hoteliers who allow their guests to bring pets with them for a small extra charge (and I do not mean hoteliers who are doing this as a business or a sideline, who would be covered by the existing Act), those hoteliers who merely allow an individual dog to be brought in for a night or two. However, there are other categories of persons or organisations who would be affected. For example, I understand that in certain circumstances British Rail find themselves obliged to look after animals in transit for a limited period, and for this service a small fee is charged.

At Heathrow Airport a service exists for animals which are waiting to go abroad to be kept for a short period at a R.S.P.C.A. hostel on the site—we dealt with this on an earlier Question asked by the noble Lord to-day—and a charge is made by the R.S.P.C.A. to the airline, which is then passed on to the owner. Such accommodation as this would, as I understand it, be brought within the licensing system that the Act provides if the amending Bill were passed. I think it is also possible that the insertion of the words proposed by the Bill would have the effect of requiring veterinary surgeons to be licensed when they take in sick dogs or cats at a charge and keep them overnight. The exemption given under proviso (b), which applies to the keeping of an animal at any premises because of a requirement under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950, is for premises where animals are kept under the quarantine regulations. The only type of boarding accommodation to remain covered by the exemption in proviso (a) to Section 5(1) would be that provided at or in connection with a track licensed under the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963. In passing, I would mention that the reference to that Act in the Bill is not quite correct, but I do not want to make too much of a point of this, as it is always rather a joy to see a Bill actually in print.

Accordingly, the effect of this amending Bill, if it were to become law, would be quite substantially to widen the scope of the original Act by bringing in these new classes of persons for licence. This may or may not be desirable. It is for the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, to point to evidence of inadequate accommodation being provided in hotels, by British Rail, or the airlines, or by vets, and for your Lordships to consider in the light of that evidence whether the situation warrants the extension of the Act's scope. It would certainly place an increased burden of inspection upon the local authorities, who have, as your Lordships will know, responsibility for enforcing the Act. I wonder whether the noble Lord has consulted them about this, or whether he has had discussions with those whose interest lies in the tourist industry or in the veterinary profession in order to ascertain their views. I hope the comments I have made will be of assistance to the noble Lord and to your Lordships.

Basically, I think that the noble Lord has not understood the wording of the original Act. The whole matter really hangs on these words, "in connection with". I suggest to him that he should look at that carefully with his advisers, because the Government do not put the same interpretation on those words as he has, although, of course—and I say this in the presence of many noble and learned Lords—it is eventually for the courts to decide. However, apart from the fact that the Bill is really not necessary at all, because what the noble Lord is quite rightly trying to do is already covered by the 1963 Act, it would have quite unnecessary, far reaching and, indeed, undesirable consequences which go far beyond what the noble Lord intended.


My Lords, I am a great lover of cats and dogs, but we are here to-day with a great array of legal talent to discuss a matter of vital importance to men and women. I suggest that we should either give the Bill a Second Reading—it will get lost anyway in view of the fact that the end of the Session is approaching—or else reject it and proceed with the real business of the day.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I may say that there has been a complete volte face from what was produced by the Home Office in 1968 when the Bill was discussed, when they said that they could see no objection to it. However, if the noble Lord says that they are already covered, I would hesitate to press my Bill. I would only suggest that local authorities should be told that they are covered. With your Lordships' leave, I will withdraw the Motion and the Bill.

Motion for Second Reading, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.