HL Deb 28 January 1982 vol 426 cc1100-12

6.33 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. A year ago tomorrow, 29 January 1981, this Bill received an unopposed Second Reading in your Lordships' House. On that occasion the Bill was supported by Lord de Clifford, whose recent death we all mourn and whose absence from this debate I greatly regret. I saw the noble Lord just before the Christmas Recess and he said that he was looking forward to supporting this Bill on the Second Reading. Last year, the Bill subsequently passed all its stages and was sent to another place, but, because of lack of time there, it made no progress.

Thirty years have now elapsed since the main Act, the Pet Animals Act 1951, became law. That Bill was sponsored by the late Sir Ronald Russell, who was a Member of Parliament. Thirteen years have elapsed since the late Sir Ronald Russell made the first of three attempts, unsuccessful as it turned out, to amend the 1951 Act. He proposed to amend his own Bill, which became the 1951 Act, in precisely the manner which is included in this Bill this evening. So one year has elapsed since I followed in the late Sir Ronald Russell's footsteps.

A week may be a long time in politics but a year is a fleeting moment in Parliament, because it takes years to get anything through Parliament unless the Government of the day offer some support and give time for it, or the sponsor of the Bill is lucky enough to come out in the ballot. Quite literally we do have legislation by ballot in Parliament, and that applies to Private Members' Bills. That enabled me to say, with some reproach I hope, that no Government ever lent any aid to Ronald Russell's main Bill or to his attempts to amend his own Act. No Government raised a finger to enable him to bring these reforms to the statute book, and yet for 30 years Governments have been relying on the provisions of the 1951 Act to defend the laws safeguarding the welfare of animals exposed for sale in pet shops and in market-places.

This Bill is an exact copy of the Bill introduced by Sir Ronald Russell between 1969 and 1974 and by me last year, in 1981. The 1951 Act, if I may briefly remind your Lordships, regulates the sale of pet animals. It requires those who carry on such a business to do so under a licence granted by the local authority. The business of selling pet animals is permissible under the Act only when conducted in a shop or from a barrow or stall set up in an authorised street market. The Act prohibits the sale of animals as pets in any other place, with certain exceptions made in the case of recognised breeders of pedigree animals.

An interesting sidelight on the law in this regard is that, during the recent very bitter weather, in one of the markets in London where both birds and pet animals are offered for sale the plight of the birds was probably less distressing than that of the animals, because fortunately the birds could be removed to the shelter of a room in a nearby pub, and the sale of the birds proceeded there, but the pet animals could not be transferred to the warmth of a nearby pub because the pub was not a licenced pet shop. So the animals had to remain on a stall or barrow, where they were exposed to the winds and the bitterly cold weather under a licence granted under the 1951 Act. My Lords, we are a curious people sometimes.

Another provision of the 1951 Act is that the local authority is required before granting a licence to have regard to various safeguards for the protection of animals. These include the need for ensuring that the animals are kept at all times in accommodation that is suitable, that is of the correct size and has the correct temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness, and that the animals will not be sold at too early an age. That is the law, and the conditions may be satisfactorily or literally complied with or they may not. We must not ignore the fact that enforcement in these circumstances presents many difficulties. This Bill proposes to put a total ban on the sale of pets from barrows and stalls in street markets; it would withdraw the power of local authorities to grant licences to sell pet animals from stalls or barrows in market places.

One reason for the removal of this proviso in the 1951 Act has had little notice before, but I am becoming more impressed as time goes on with the need to encourage more responsible ownerships of pet animals. There are many temptations in the buying of kittens and puppies. In a debate in another place just before the Christmas Recess, the Minister of State at the Home Office joined in the exhortations to parents and other generous Christmas donors not to give pets to children for Christmas presents, but to bear in mind that kittens grow up to become cats and puppies grow up to become dogs; and probably before then those who have them are tired of them, and that often leads to animals being turned out or abandoned or even put down. That speech was as recent as 23rd December.

The temptation to buy pet animals is greater, especially in the case of the impulsive purchase or the casual purchase, if a person is passing a stall or barrow where puppies are exposed for sale. Animals should not be bought as a passing fancy. There is a responsibility attaching to their health and welfare. It is a shame that, in so-called animal-loving Britain, hundreds of thousands of pet animals are put down every year because there are too many of them and too many of them are not wanted: in many cases, they have been taken in and then thrown out. Some heartless people throw their pets out, drop them on the motorway, abandon them. All this is against the law, but how does one enforce these provisions against wanton cruelty when there are so many people who are willing to do this kind of thing?

I say, therefore, that it is desirable to make the buying of pets a serious and premeditated act. I think that taking pet animals out of markets will help to achieve that purpose. If people have to go to a pet shop for an animal, it is much more likely to be a purposeful visit, premeditated and provided for, than may be the case with somebody passing a stall in a market and picking up a puppy. The child takes a fancy to one and they buy it on the spot, especially when at the end of the day in market places prices usually fall, they are going cheap and that is the time when temptation is even greater.

Nevertheless, the main reason for this Bill is the one I put up a year ago, and that is that stalls and barrows in open market places are no longer acceptable as a place for the sale of pet animals. The Minister of State in another place and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary in this House are constantly reminding us of the obligations of local authorities to enforce the law and to make sure that animals are kept in conditions of reasonable comfort. We all know what local authorities are saying about their financial resources. We all know what they are saying about the difficulty of maintaining their services in present circumstances. If local authorities were as good as the law expects them to be, and if the vendors were as compassionate for the welfare of their animals as the law expects them to be, and tries to insist that they shall be, why then does the RSPCA feel it necessary to have inspectors on duty at these market places in order to oversee what is happening there, to take note of abuses of the law and, in suitable cases, to launch prosecutions off their own bat? That is what is happening. I have often remarked on the extraordinary position which means that a voluntary organisation like the RSPCA has to cover the responsibilities of local authorities and of the police in this field of cruelty to animals. That is because of the difficulty of their enforcement by local authorities and others responsible. The law sounds better than it is: in practice it is nothing like so good as it sounds.

Without dwelling upon the impossibility of giving animals proper protection against the sort of weather we have been having in the past two months, I would say that nothing can be done with a street market to make it acceptable by present standards. Calor gas stoves, tarpaulins which blow about in the wind, puppies and kittens huddled in cages and containers: these arrangements do not provide satisfactory conditions for selling animals. They have to be lifted out, they have to be held up for a customer to look at and go over, and then if they are not sold they are put back, and if they are sold they are often taken away by the purchaser, most likely in makeshift conditions. The local authorities, I have no doubt, do their best to keep the streets free of dust and rubbish and to try to enforce the regulations. But from what I have seen of it they are very often fighting a losing battle against dirt and litter, dust and wind and conditions which are extremely unpleasant.

I do not think any market place exposed to all weathers can claim to be a modern institution. It is nothing more than a survival of ancient ritual. People were selling animals in some of these markets two or three hundred years ago and they want to go on doing it. Some animals have been banished from these markets, but others remain. A market may be good for trade, but it is the wrong trade in many cases, and these animals should not be subject to that kind of treatment. A lot of them are sick and need medical attention. Often they do not survive very long after they have been bought.

I know the Minister may say, "Yes, this all right, but who are you getting at? Is it Club Row or is it more than Club Row?" What he said last time was that I was hitting at a wider target beyond the immediate cause of concern and of difficulty. That is not so. It is true that Club Row in the East End of London gets a good deal of publicity. For one thing it is close at hand for Fleet Street journalists, who can get good copy whenever they go and look at it, especially photographers. So it has long been notable for the kind of criticism it gets. But Club Row is not the only one; there are others throughout the country, happily a diminishing number, because public opinion is now expressing itself and its disapproval is known to those engaged in this business of selling pets in open markets. One can hope that there will be a rapid reduction in this volume of trade.

Another suggestion that has been made is that it would deprive some people of their livelihood if they were banned from selling pets in market places and stalls. That, my Lords, is a mistaken fear. We have got the pedigree of all the people who are selling in Club Row market. We have got the pedigree of those who sell the animals but we have not got the pedigree of the animals. The pedigree of those who sell them shows without any doubt whatever that they are in this business in pet shops and other outlets for their animals, whether they breed them or acquire them. Nearly all those who are selling at Club Row have got an interest in pet shops as well. There are eight pet shops in the immediate vicinity of that one market. Therefore, we understand that animals are, in many cases, taken out of the pet shops, put in the market, and if they are unsold they are taken back to the pet shop. So the market is frequently only an additional outlet for selling in the pet shop business, probably because the casual trade in the market is worth going for—a matter which I criticised earlier.

Reports by the RSPCA of conditions in other markets and correspondence which I have received all suggest that it really is time to make a clean job of the business of selling pets in the open. In Holland the selling of animals in open market-places was banned as from 1st January. I should hope that we can follow suit. I shall not detain your Lordships more than a minute or two longer because my final appeal to your Lordships is as follows. There is a very good reason why this Bill, if it represents the view of your Lordhips' House, should be given an unopposed Second Reading tonight, in order that such messages as go from here to another place may reach the House of Commons in time for the Report stage of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which came out of Committee just before Christmas. The reason is that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is an attempt by Government to lay pretty firm foundations of the highest common denominator for local government powers, to save local authorities having to promote Private Bills to get powers for themselves by Private Bill procedure which can be conferred upon them in a Public Bill.

In Committee in another place, a debate took place upon whether a prohibition should be included in that Bill upon local authorities responsible for markets, to ban the sale of pet animals in those markets. I understand that, by a very narrow vote, the amendment did not proceed, but it is more than likely, I believe, that it will come up again at the Report stage.

I think that there will be two interesting topics in the Report stage of that Bill; one will be the licensing of sex shops, and the other will be pet shops. Which will attract the most interest in another place, I would not venture to say. I am sure that when that Bill reaches your Lordships' House we shall be interested in both of them. However, that is the situation. I hope that this matter can be disposed of in another place in the course of the final stages of the Bill to which I have referred.

Be that as it may, we can only be concerned tonight with what we ourselves do. I suggest that, as we gave this Bill a Second Reading a year ago, we might confidently do the same again this time. The noble Lord the Minister said last time that, while the Government would not introduce a Bill of their own, they would not oppose this one. I should think not—with great respect, I should think not. Their record does not entitle them to oppose anything which seeks, as this Bill does, to improve the conditions of pet animals in market places, because they have done little or nothing to get the legislation there in the first place. I think, also, that what has happened in Holland might be borne in mind, and that is why I mention that matter again.

So to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading would, I think, convey the right sort of message to another place and to the public at large. I trust that the speech which I have made in support of the Bill is adequate for the occasion. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

6.55 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I think that we all admire the tireless efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, on behalf of animal welfare and I trust that we shall give his Bill its Second Reading as we did on the former occasion. I am grateful to the noble Lord for not having forestalled my little joke that, with a name like mine, I ought to be concerned with the welfare of pet animals. However, I am only speaking at rather short notice in place of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley who spoke in the Second Reading debate on the former occasion, and I feared that if I hurriedly tried to cobble together a speech it would only result in what the late Lord Montgomery of Alamein would have called appropriately "a dog's breakfast". Therefore, since this topic is a narrow one and has been so well gone into, and since no doubt your Lordships have all read the Second Reading speeches on the former occasion, I shall content myself with making just one point which may not have been emphasised quite so much as some of the others.

This is very much the age of the consumer, although personally I prefer to call him a "shopper". Efforts are being made in all directions to give disorganised people who go shopping a fair deal in their dealings with the people from whom they have to buy. If the average person goes to a market stall to buy a pet animal, I would imagine that the chances are that he will not be very clever at judging the health and wellbeing of the animal upon one cursory examination, particularly when we bear in mind that the animal may have been put into a temporary state of wellbeing by some medical treatment before hand. But if the purchaser gets the animal home and finds that literally he has been sold a pup and he wants to bring a complaint against the trader, he is probably faced with having to return to the market on one particular half-day in the week and that may be impossible or extremely inconvenient for him, and even if he does manage to make a return visit to the market it is by no means certain that that trader will again be there with his market stall. So we really are doing shoppers a favour when we encourage them to deal with pet shops and not with market stalls, so that when they have a complaint to make about the condition of the animal that has been sold to them, they will know that they can return at normal business hours to the shop from which they bought it, and confront the proprietor of the shop with the nature of their complaint. That is the only point that I desire to make. However, having concentrated on the interests of consumers, I hope that it will not be thought that I do not have the most heartfelt sympathy with any pet animal which is ever put unnecessarily into a state of distress.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, a short Bill merits a short speech, especially from someone who, through an oversight, has not got his name on the list of speakers. But it was my intention to speak on this Second Reading and to pay my tribute, as so many tributes have been paid, to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who ought to be known as the St. Francis of Assisi of Parliament.

I would not follow the noble Lord completely in his admiration for those in another place who raised the question of pets being given as gifts to children. Provided that the child is first asked and the family is first asked about that gift, I would hope that we would always encourage the love of pets by children. Indeed, the love of animals generally in the home is, as we all know, very much centred in the children of the household, who would protest very vigorously and successfully if, when the kittens turn to cats and the puppies turn to dogs, father or mother thought of giving the dogs or the cats away or parting with them.

I am at one with the noble Lord when he says that stalls and barrows in market places are completely unsuitable for the sale of pets. This is especially so because of the surrounding circumstances of stalls and barrows in market places. They are crowded, they are noisy, they are frightening for many animals and many birds and, indeed, the milling crowds that are round, not the pet stall or the pet barrow, but other places in order to secure bargains or whatever it may be, make it most unsuitable that barrows in market places should be there for the sale of pets. With those observations, I give all my support to the Second Reading of this Bill.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Peart

My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for initiating this Bill. On many occasions I have had the pleasure of supporting his views, and he has been a tireless advocate. I am glad that he is now able to further what he seeks; that is, the matter of the Pet Animals Act 1951 (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]. As I say, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for initiating this Bill. Among the very serious problems which face us from day to day, aspects of less concern but still of relative importance may not get the attention and time that they deserve: the well-being of those less able to care for themselves, including, of course, animals and birds, which come under the classification of "pets". We are all indebted to my noble friend on this occasion, as on many others in connection with animal welfare. Although he and others have shown a special concern, it is, of course, true that we all share that concern, and we are grateful for the opportunity that he has afforded us to stop and examine the situation that he has outlined today.

We are grateful, too, to the various bodies and organisations which have a continuing regard for the welfare of animals, including the RSPCA. The noble Lord's Bill would regulate the sale of pet animals. In other words, he is, quite rightly, seeking to control the conditions under which they are kept before people buy them. But we are concerned not only about conditions under which they are kept, but about other aspects too, and that must include whether they are being bought by people for their own pleasure or whether they are being bought for others as gifts.

We have all heard of pets being given as Christmas or birthday presents—the noble Lord himself dealt with this—and which become unwanted gifts, which cannot be stored and passed on to others later. They are often uncared for and later are abandoned. So we come to the problems of concern as regards the sale of pets, which include the way in which pets are transported to and from shops; the way in which they are kept and the conditions of storage—the containers, cages and packaging; the need for proper housing, feeding and care, whether sold from shops where care is greater or from stalls or barrows in a market; the environment and the weather—whether it is too hot or too cold; whether they are sold from a public place or from private premises; the length of time in captivity, even in reasonable conditions; the classification of "pets"—and I should like to know whether that includes fish sold in small quantities of water in a plastic bag, birds sold in too small a cage or animals sold in very restricted containers for transport by the new owner; and whether sold for cash, or given as prizes or for reward.

The Bill extends protection to the market stall and barrow. It is this aspect which is very important and I know that my noble friend and, indeed, all Members when they have intervened have dealt with this on previous occasions. The Pet Animals Act 1951, which would be amended by this Bill, refers only to "pet animals" including those with "vertebrae", and that is to be found in Section 7(3) of the Act. I should like to know what will happen about fish and birds, which I have mentioned, which also require protection.

Whatever controls we seek to exert in the interest of animal welfare, there are bound to be situations where influence and control cannot be exerted or is less effective. They include possible situations where control is less likely to be satisfactorily enforced. This would include the absence of adequate enforcement measures. It would include the inadequacy of the inspectors allotted to the task by public authorities, which have been forced to reduce public spending to the point where there are not even enough health and safety inspectors in factories and in other places where people work and live.

Much depends on whether pets are sold or whether they are given as prizes in competitions where people are gathered and therefore may not be "sold". This is much worse because people may not have chosen to have them. We are appreciative of the opportunity afforded to us by my noble friend. This is a Private Member's Bill and I am sure that my noble friends will make up their own minds on what their response will be.

Whatever happens, the passing of legislation is only a part—albeit an important part—of the task of ensuring animal wellbeing. Much depends on what conditions prevail after pets are bought, as well as conditions of sale. Much depends on enforcement. Public vigilance will matter a good deal, but most important will be whether the Government will ensure, through national and local authority resources, the cash and manpower for inspection of premises and conditions of sale. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some answers to the points that I have raised and, indeed, to those that my noble friend has raised. I hope that we can go further and say that this is another milestone in the work of ending cruelty as it affects animal welfare.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has reminded the House that it is a year ago tomorrow that your Lordships debated the Second Reading of this identical Bill. The noble Lord has also reminded us that the late Sir Ronald Russell, the promotor of the 1951 Act, attempted also to amend his Act in order to prohibit the sale of pets and animals from stalls or barrows in markets, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, seeks to do on this occasion again in this Bill. I join in recognising that it is to the credit of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that with characteristic resolve he has not been deflected by the previous lack of progress from pursuing the welfare of pet animals.

I suggest, however, that there are wider considerations that need to be taken into account in assessing the case for this Bill. First, there are the present legislative provisions which are designed to ensure the welfare of pet animals and to safeguard their interest. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 provides protection for domestic and captive animals by making it an offence to cause or, being the owner, permit to be caused, any unnecessary suffering to any such animal, whether in a market or elsewhere. Under the Act it is open to any person or society to initiate proceedings or report the matter to the police where there is reason to believe that an offence has been committed. The penalties are realistic. For offences under the 1911 Act they include a maximum fine of £500 or three months' imprisonment, or both. There is also an important power whereby a court can deprive a person convicted of cruelty of the ownership of the animal or animals involved.

Secondly, the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 is also relevant to the remarks that were made by the noble Lord in this speech in that it makes it an offence for the owner of a domestic or a captive animal to abandon it in circumstances likely to cause any unnecessary suffering. Thirdly, and really most im portantly, there is the Pet Animals Act 1951, which provides specific controls over the sale of pet animals. The Act requires any person carrying on a business of selling animals as pets to obtain a licence from the local authority, and prohibits the carrying on of such a business in any part of a street or public place, except at a stall or barrow in a market. Provided market traders have been licensed by their local authorities, they can therefore sell pet animals at a market stall or barrow, and of course it is this provision with which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, takes issue this evening.

In placing the onus on local authorities to safeguard the welfare of animals sold as pets, Parliament requires local authorities to specify in any licence conditions for appropriate accommodation, for food and drink and other things that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned. Licences may only be granted for up to one year at a time, and this gives the local authorities the opportunity to reassess the position at the end of that time. These requirements are backed by provision for local authorities to authorise their officers or a veterinary surgeon to inspect any licensed premises, including stalls or barrows in markets. Any offence may be punished by a fine or imprisonment; and a court may cancel a licence and may disqualify a person from engaging in the business of selling pet animals.

It will be seen from what I have tried to say that the law provides a battery of measures designed to safeguard the welfare of domestic animals, and the 1951 Act specifically requires local authorities to enforce this in respect of the sale of pet animals.

As to the reasons advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for the Bill, I think it would be fair if I claimed that the Bill is prompted mainly by the expressions of concern about the welfare of animals at Club Row Market in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is claimed that the general standards required by the 1951 Act really cannot be met in a street market. Furthermore it certainly was alleged on the previous occasion by the noble Lord that Club Row is an outlet for illegal animal dealers who are known to have stolen pets, and the noble Lord also alleged that they are dealers who are connected with the sale of pets to research laboratories.

These are serious charges, and I quite understood when the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and the noble Lord, Lord Peart, both asked me the question, can local authorities in the present economic climate in fact carry out their responsibilities under the 1951 Act? I have had inquiries made about the position specifically at Club Row, and I have found that persons selling pet animals there must be licensed, and the Tower Hamlets Borough Council is obliged to carry out its responsibilities under the 1951 Act. The chief environmental health officer for that borough has assured the Home Office that the licences issued by his department incorporate standards recommended by the British Veterinary Association. The director of community services for the borough informed us earlier this month that since 1968 it has been the policy of the borough—in accordance with the general provisions of the 1951 Act—to exclude from the prescription of all new licences the sale of cats and dogs under the age of six months. I understand that during 1981 members of the council's Health and Consumer Services Committee received detailed reports about the situation at Club Row. Committee members visited the market to see the position at first hand and also received deputations from the East London Protection of Animals Association and the Bethnal Green Street Traders' Association. In addition, members of the committee considered a list of possible amendments to the 1951 Act which had been submitted by the RSPCA.

After detailed consideration of the situation, the committee instructed its officers to continue with the existing level of supervision and control through the strict enforcement of the present law. At the same time, the committee also instructed that no action should be taken with regard to amending the council's resolution designating Sclater Street (the street in which Club Row stands) for the purposes of street trading for the market or to seeking amendment of the 1951 Act.

As to facts and figures concerning the market, Tower Hamlets Borough Council issued 36 licences under the1951 Act in 1981, 20 of which were in respect of stalls in the market and four in respect of shops in the market area. I understand that all the stalls are inspected on renewal of licences annually, and at least monthly thereafter by the council's environmental health officers and by animal health inspectors of the City of London Corporation Veterinary Department. There were no prosecutions in 1981 and the condition and welfare of the animals were found to be satisfactory. Perhaps at this point I should add that officers of the RSPCA are also regularly in attendance at the market. There is, of course, also a significant police presence there. The police say they are not aware of any cases of illegal animals sales at the market during 1981, although last March a man was found to be in possession of four undernourished dogs in a street outside the recognised market area. He was successfully prosecuted by the RSPCA under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, for causing unnecessary suffering.

Since January 1981 the borough council have imposed licence conditions which they believe are in line with the guidelines issued by the British Veterinary Association. The director of community services for Tower Hamlets has informed us that the new licence conditions are working satisfactorily; that they have generally reduced the number of animals exposed for sale; and have led to an increase in the time spent on inspection and administration.

As regards all the other street markets which the noble Lord mentioned on the previous occasion a year ago, and made some mention of this evening, the Home Office have received very few complaints, but again we made inquiries. One complaint recently concerned a market in North Finchley, but on inquiry it was vigorously denied by the Barnet Borough Council. We wrote last year to five district councils selected at random in whose areas it was claimed that there was cause for concern about the welfare of pet animals sold from stalls and barrows. We were told by the chief environmental health officers for Bracknell, Braintree, Harlow, Selby and South Tyneside that the situation in their markets was satisfactory.

Very recently, because of specific complaints, we made inquiries of another four district councils whose markets were the subject of concern expressed by animal welfare people. We understand that at two of these markets—Romford and Bishop's Stortford—there have been no licensed stalls for many years; and that there is no illegal trading. At the third market—Dagenham—there has been only one licensed stall selling small animals and budgerigars. The stall holder has decided not to renew the licence for next year. At the fourth market, at Doncaster, there was one complaint four years ago but the district council is satisfied that the present position is satisfactory.

I am—I say this genuinely— fully aware of the concern which is expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and others of your Lordships this evening. As the noble Lord was good enough to say, my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Raison, spoke in a debate in another place just before Christmas and drew attention to the valuable advice and other services which are available. My honourable friend quoted from the Pet Health Council's leaflet, Ten Points on Choosing a Pet: Never buy on impulse, think first, look at lots of animals and learn what's involved before you start. Don't let your heart rule your head; never take a pet simply because you are sorry for him". The leaflet reminds people that a pet obtained from a low-grade shop or street market could become a liability. It has good advice on how to get ready to have a pet at home.

I do not seek to minimise the welfare of pet animals at Club Row market, which is the real impetus behind this Bill, but I think that there are broader considerations. I believe, from the evidence I have tried to give this evening, that the Tower Hamlets Borough Council have been very carefully discharging their statutory responsibilities. As for complaints about other markets, I do not think those have been substantiated. While, therefore, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for concentrating our attention on the welfare of pet animals—which incidentally, under the law, with the 1951 Act, includes fish, and the very large regulation in the licences issued by Tower Hamlets Borough Council includes poultry and other birds, I would remind the noble Lord, Lord PeartI must say that I do not think the solution advocated in the Bill is wholly justified.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and I especially wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for drawing attention to quite an important aspect of buying animals in market places—the questions of warranty and redress if one has, so to speak, bought a pup and frequently the difficulty of getting complaints attended to on the part of stallholders who are not regularly there. There is no doubt that to buy from pet shop premises under the conditions by which pet shops are now regulated and supervised is the most suitable way of buying a pet animal, apart from going to the breeders themselves, and a number of people do go direct to breeders and look at what they are buying and rely on the quality of the animals they get.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mishcon and although we are not always on the same side, on this occasion my heart warmed to him in a most unusual way, and I hope it lasts. My noble friend rightly chided me with using too much shorthand in regard to the purchase of animals by or on behalf of young children. I take his point, and it is a fair one; one should take great care before buying animals for children. One should resolve to make it part of the training of young people in understanding animals and in treating them propertly and kindly. I am grateful to my noble friend for having made that point, a very valid one, and it would be wrong if I left the House under the impression that I was advocating a complete boycott on the purchase of animals for young children. It is all a matter of the sense of responsibility of the parents, and if that is there, then children should be encouraged to know animals from the very earliest age.

I am grateful, also, for the continued support of my noble friend Lord Peart. All went well with the debate until the Minister rose to make his contribution. The first thing I want to tell him is that the British Veterinary Association have done their best in their guidelines to raise the standard of welfare within the provisions of the Act. The framework of the Act lays down the conditions under which animals should be kept in licensed markets. But the noble Lord has to dispose of the fact that notwithstanding the efforts of the BVA to help raise standards and maintain them, they are still in favour of this Bill. I believe that fundamentally they think that those are not conditions under which animals should be kept for sale, and if they are to be kept for sale under those conditions, let us try to raise them to the highest standard of welfare and comfort.

I was not a bit surprised that the noble Lord erected the whole battery of protective legislation, from the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to the Abandonment of Animals Act, the 1951 Act and so on—the sort of array of safeguards that are there—but when they are all looked at closely, one finds difficulties in applying them, getting convictions under them and enforcing them. After all, the whole basis of the 1911 Act is unnecessary cruelty, something which has troubled lawyers for ages. What is unnecessary cruelty when you are about to slay an animal? What is unnecessary cruelty when the law authorises you to put it on sale on a stall on a bitter winter day with a blizzard blowing down the street such as we have not experienced for many years past? What is the degree of unnecessary cruelty there? Basically, as my noble friend Lord Mishcon said, they are unsuitable conditions, especially these days when there are so many other avenues for sale and when modern standards are such an improvement on the past. One should get rid of the primitive conditions under which animals were treated and lift them to a new level.

In relation to enforcement and the Tower Hamlets Borough Council, I would not wish to detain the House now by going into the problems of that council. They have many market places under their authority, and a lot of them are held on Sundays, which makes staffing and inspection very difficult. I need not stress the point of Sunday work on the part of local government officials who are responsible for inspecting and visiting markets. Petticoat Lane is only just around the corner, and there are perhaps eight markets under the jurisdiction of Tower Hamlets Borough Council.

The noble Lord probably did not have the benefit of hearing what the authorities said about the difficulties of manning their responsibilities. Their officials are there, and they can be excused for not being there all the time; and that is why the RSPCA have gone to the expense and trouble, also on Sunday, of having somebody there all the time. That is important. Why are they there all the time? Surely it is not because they like being there on a cold Sunday morning. It is because they fear that conditions may be brought to their notice which will require attention.

I could, of course, go on further, but I sense that the House would not wish to make an issue at this time over the Second Reading of this Bill. There are times when we in this House use our own judgement and try to pursue our own purposes which we believe justify the step that we are taking, and I think it would be as well if your Lordships, in giving an unopposed Second Reading to the Bill, were to convey the message which the Bill really carries. There may be details about it, but for us to express our concern in this way surely cannot do any harm. After all, one can go on passing Bills in this House, but unless they get time in another place one has achieved very little except the publicity, if any, attaching to a debate and the message that one gives to quarters which might take notice of it. That, I suggest, is what we can do again tonight, especially as in another place they may have opportunities in the near future of themselves looking at this issue in a different context.

If the two minds can meet in Parliament in the near future, we might find some satisfactory solution to a problem which nags a lot of people and which started with Sir Ronald Russell in 1969 and is still going in 1982. There must be something in it. We cannot just be moved by emotion and exaggerated accounts of conditions. The persistence of different people behind this movement surely indicates a deep concern and disapproval of what is done to animals. I am sorry the Government do not rise to occasions. Goodness me! would it not be a delight if we could see some imaginative purpose on the Government Benches sometimes, trying to lead the county into a higher conception of the quality of life, instead of defending theoretical conditions which do not in practice satisfy all our requirements. Therefore I sincerely hope that the House will proceed to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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