HL Deb 13 May 1987 vol 487 cc706-8

7.50 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill was piloted through the other place by Mr. Harry Greenway, the honourable Member for Ealing North, who had two previous attempts with a similar measure. The first attempt in 1985, prompted by his enthusiasm to crush the villains who promote dogfights, involved a Bill with penalties of £10,000 and 10 years in gaol. That was no good; the Government realised that the penalties were far too heavy. Cases would also have had to be tried in Crown Courts rather than in magistrates' courts. The position would have been hopeless because the Crown Courts would have been so clogged up. Under the existing Bill such cases can be tried in magistrates' courts.

This is an excellent Bill. If it is passed, the present fine of £1,000 will be increased. That is equivalent to Level 4 on the standard scale, or three months' imprisonment, or both. The present Bill will double that. The fine proposed is £2,000; that is Level 5 or six months' imprisonment, or both.

The Bill was originally entitled the Dog Fighting Penalties Bill. The reason for that title was that Mr. Greenway was concentrating on this atrocious custom—one cannot call it a sport or a pastime—which appears to be on the increase. However, it was thought to be far more useful if a Protection of Animals Bill was introduced which imposed penalties with regard to the ill-treatment of any animal. Under the terms of the Bill cruelty to any captive or domestic animal, which is considered to be extremely serious, can lead to the perpetrator of that cruelty being fined up to the maximum.

I shall now go back about 150 years to show how dog fighting came to pass. The baiting of animals 150 years ago was carried out chiefly with bulls and hears. It was made illegal principally because the bull often got loose and tossed the spectators. It would also toss dogs severely harming and often killing them. However, when such baiting was made illegal, dog fighting came into practice.

I consider dog fighting a greater evil than cockfighting, although both have been illegal for a long time. After all, the dog has been man's companion for thousands of years. The Egyptian pharaohs worshipped the pharaoh hound as a god up to 5000 BC. Apart from being a lovable animal, one could not farm sheep without dogs, especially in wild country. Guide dogs help the blind. And the police use dogs. Therefore, the dog occupies a superior position to the game cock. A game cock is bred purely for fighting, despite the fact that this has been illegal for a long time.

The dog is an extremely useful animal, a great companion, and brings enjoyment to many people. In the last five or six years, however, dog fighting has come back into vogue. It appeared to die out at about the time of the First World War, but we are told that it is now on the increase. There was a bad incident in 1985, although that was the first prosecution for dog fighting ever brought in this country.

Some of your Lordships will probably have seen pictures in the press of a bitch which was mangled and had her jaw torn off. She was left in a most appalling condition and had to be put down. It is extraordinary that there are men who can do that. They must be very sadistic; they must enjoy watching animals tearing themselves to pieces.

I should like to see the penalties for promoting dog fights stiffened. But the number of trials that would arise would clog the county court.

The Bill is very short; it has only two clauses. The first clause is the important one. It sets out the appropriate fines and imprisonment for such offences. The other clause is of no great importance. It repeals two enactments but those enactments do not affect the Bill to any great extent. Clause 2 also states that the Bill will become law within two months from the date that it is passed and that it shall not extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, I hope that one day, it will.

The Bill has passed through all its stages in the Commons and the Government wish it to pass through all its stages today. Therefore, there is not much more that I can say about it. Dog-fighting has been called a sport, but it is only performed before thugs. It is an extraordinary thing that people—chiefly men—can enjoy seeing animals tearing themselves to pieces or human beings such as heavyweight boxers giving one another brain damage or some such injury. It is a degenerate pastime and it appears to be on the increase. It is mystifying that people can enjoy such a form of entertainment.

Finally, pehaps I may say that if the promotion of dog fighting is not crushed there will have to be another Bill and the penalties will have to be increased. It is possible that the penalty of six months' imprisonment will have more effect in stopping dog fighting than the fine of £2,000. Having said that, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)

8.1 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I am grateful for the clear presentation that the noble Viscount has made in moving this short but very important Bill. I also very much enjoyed the highly informed details which he gave concerning the historical background of the question of animal baiting and dog fighting.

We on these Benches certainly share the horror and repugnance that the noble Viscount has expressed at any form of cruelty to animals. I think that the necessity for this Bill has been made clear by the examples which the noble Viscount has given and which were given in the debate in another place as regards the increase in cases of dog fights which have been brought before courts in the past year or so. Therefore it seems right that the law should be amended in the way suggested in an attempt to deter people from that barbaric and cruel habit.

Perhaps I may widen the discussion briefly and touch on one or two other matters which may be kept in mind when considering how best to protect animals from cruelty. The first and most important matter is education. Surely it is important to educate society and especially young people to have respect for animals and to treat them properly. That must be seen as an ongoing process which is of the most fundamental importance.

Secondly, there is the question of dog wardens. In Northern Ireland, dog wardens are already appointed by local authorities. I feel that if that practice were to be brought in throughout the United Kingdom there is little doubt that the role of the wardens in looking after and protecting stray dogs would make an important difference.

Lastly, perhaps we should also examine the powers of the police and the RSPCA inspectors in order that one day future legislation may enable them to enter premises with a warrant when they believe that an animal is suffering unduly. While recognising that such powers would have to be exercised very carefully, I nevertheless feel that that would avoid some of the appalling suffering which can at present be experienced by animals when the RSPCA cannot gain entry to relieve suffering.

With those few additional points concerning future thinking on how we may further the protection of animals, perhaps I may say that we support the Bill on this side of the House. We believe that it is a step forward towards ensuring that animals are not treated cruelly. As I say, I hope that extra safeguards will be kept in mind for any future legislation.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for explaining his Bill to us this evening. I shall be brief. The Bill provides for a considerable strengthening of the legislation protecting the welfare of animals. The Government wish to ensure that effective penalties are available for all instances of cruelty to captive and domestic animals and we are therefore pleased to support this important Bill. I know that the Bill has support on all sides of your Lordships' House and I warmly commend it to your Lordships.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, for what she has said. As regards dog wardens, it has been suggested that we should follow the example of Northern Ireland. However, I am not sure whether they would have any effect on dog fighting. Perhaps that does not go on in Northern Ireland. Having said that, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 12th May), Bill read a third time, and passed.