HL Deb 08 June 1988 vol 497 cc1480-6

8.11 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

My first pleasant duty in moving the Second Reading of the Bill is to congratulate the honourable Member for Basildon, Mr. David Amess, on his great achievement in getting the Bill through all its stages, one after another, on a day in May without a word being said for or against it. That is a very unusual occurrence.

I am glad to report that I had this experience myself years ago on a very different and, I thought then, much more contentious Bill. When another place comes to be televised there will be a good deal of explaining to do as to how some Private Members' Bills seem to be talked on day after day and night after night and then never get through, and other Private Members' Bills—or at least an occasional Private Members' Bill—are not talked on at all and get through. It would be inappropriate for me to delay the House to say what I think about the Private Members' Bill procedure in another place, but, quite clearly, it produces some astonishing results.

I can well understand the ecstasy of the honourable Member for Basildon when he issued a press release on the day his Bill passed through all its stages. All he had to do was to get up every now and again when Mr. Speaker said, "Second Reading, what day?", or "Committee stage, what day?", or "Third Reading, what day?", and say, "Now Sir", "Now Sir", and those were the magic words. In a sense Mr. Amess became a kind of Paul Daniels of parliamentary procedure. By what magic has he been successful in getting this Bill here with so little delay? It did not even go through the ballot procedure. He had a ten-minute Bill. The most frustrating exercise in parliamentary experience is a ten-minute Bill. One only does it for publicity. One does not expect to get one's Bill through, but here we are and one has got through. I am sure that the honourable Member feels that he has made a little history.

What does the Bill do? It is another short Bill and was explained to the House of Commons earlier when the honourable Member was asking leave to introduce it in the first instance. It deals with a matter of growing concern among those who observe horses, ponies and donkeys tethered in adverse weather conditions, without adequate food and water and probably with a paucity of grazing, and in other respects being subject to cruel treatment. All this arises from a most disturbing report a year ago by the RSPCA. It conducted a survey of about 3,000 horses, ponies and donkeys all over the country to see in what conditions they were tethered.

In our affluent society there is a growing evil among people who have two amenities which they can afford but do not know where to put. One is the motor car and the other is the horse. This evil is growing because many people have horses for their children—rather than for themselves—but have inadequate facilities for grazing them. There are fears in some quarters that this Bill may adversely affect legitimate tethering of animals by gypsies, by fairground people and by others who have horses on the move which may be tethered for legitimate periods while resting from their normal activities. However, I want to stress the fact that this Bill deals only with cruel tethering. Cruel tethering is distinct from tethering that is not cruel. The courts will distinguish between the two.

Cruel tethering is where the animal is given short rope, probably a rope with which it may strangle itself or in which it may become entangled, leading to serious consequences. In the RSPCA report there is a photograph of a horse that stangled itself. It was tethered by a motor tyre put over its head, and a rope. It kept walking around a tree and eventually strangled itself. Other photographs show horses which became entangled in the tethering rope, were unable to disentangle themselves and could not move. This is what is meant by cruelty in tethering horses. People who take care of their animals and exercise reasonable responsibility in providing for them need have no worries about the terms of the Bill.

This is one of those instances where one has to provide for what is cruel even though it may arise out of something that is not unlawful. People who tether their horses and donkeys must pay some regard to their well-being and welfare. If they fail to do so, they could be guilty of cruelty. It is cruelty that we are after. This short Bill refers to the tethering of animals and adds to the list of offences in the original Act of 1911.

The question arises as to whether the Bill should apply to Scotland. That aspect can be considered before the Committee stage. There seems to be no reason why it should not.

However, there are other small details which need consideration. It is not apparantly necessary to refer to ponies because they are covered by the mention of the word "horses". Another peculiarity is that there is no such animal as a donkey in the law of cruelty; it is an ass. Indeed, the 1911 Act refers to asses and not to donkeys. However, I do not think that we should be troubled by such trivialities, but if we do have to change donkeys to asses, then I do not think there will be any difficulty in so doing.

Of course there are other matters about the Bill which may require some attention. For example, there is no operative date. As drafted, the Bill would come into effect immediately upon Royal Assent. That is always a nuisance because there may be offences in the pipeline which would fall to be dealt with immediatley under the new law; whereas, if reasonable notice is given, there can be a complete clearance. Therefore in Committee I shall ask that the Act should come into force at the end of a period of two months, beginning on the day on which it passed.

There is yet another small matter I feel I should mention. Noble Lords will see that in Clause 1 at line 7 it says: shall tether any horse, pony or donkey under such conditions or in such manner or position as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering". Doubt has been raised about the use of the word "position". One noble Lord asked me whether this would affect the tethering of a horse or, for example, the tying up of a horse's leg in connection with the breaking-in procedure, should the Bill become enacted. I do not think that there is any possibility that it would; but, nevertheless, the word "position" seems to indicate that it has something to do with the mode of tethering. Therefore in Committee I may ask Members of the Committee to delete that word, so that it will read in general terms: in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering". It must be said that the words "unnecessary suffering" are the key words all the way through the 1911 Act and through subsequent legislation.

That is about all I have to say. I do not think that anyone has anything to fear if they give normal care and attention to animals that they may tether. However, they should be reminded of the fact that there is a code of conduct—freely issued by the RSPCA—available to all owners of such animals which will guide them on how to deal with any animal that they may wish to tie up. It is necessary to use swivels at both ends of the tether, otherwise horses can become entangled when going around trees, for example, and gradually reduce the area of their grazing.

It must also be realised that a horse grazes in an entirely different way from a cow. Some people who have animals know nothing about them. They think that if they turn the animals out into a field and give them a pail of water that they will be all right; but they are not all right. A cow can go into a field of long grass and tug it up, but on the other hand a horse is a very close grazer. It is no use turning a horse into a hayfield; but some people do not know that. So, together with the guidelines freely offered by the RSPCA to the owners of such animals—caravanners on holiday, or otherwise—and to all those concerned who have the animals on tethers, I think the legislation will make a good job of the work that is now being done on behalf of animals.

If I had a handy scriptural reference I would quote it; but, unfortunately, I have not. Nevertheless, I think that the two Bills, taken together, will be quite a notable advance in the welfare of animals for this Session of Parliament. Indeed, I am most happy and proud to have been asked to sponsor both of them in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

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

8.25 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I apologise to the House for not putting my name down to speak in the debate; but I was not sure whether I could be here in time. I must declare an interest because I am the owner of two rather large donkeys. I must say that I think it is most encouraging in this country that there is a very high esteem for donkeys. This has been evidenced by the wide support for the donkey sanctuary charity which does great work by helping maltreated donkeys, or donkeys which have been starved and generally ill-treated. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, pointed out that the definition of donkeys according to the 1911 Act is "asses". Therefore, I assume that the title of the Bill will need to be changed. However, perhaps he will comment on that point later on.

I congratulate the noble Lord on moving the Bill, which I very much welcome. As he rightly explained, it received a most warm welcome in another place. He said the honourable Member for Basildon simply said, "Now, Sir". In fact, there is no record of him even saying that in Hansard—but no doubt he did. However, I too congratulate him for introducing the Bill so successfully in another place. I am worried that if amendments are introduced now and the Bill has to go back to another place, there will perhaps not be enough parliamentary time for it to reach the statute book this Session. However, I hope that the necessary time will be granted by the Government.

Tonight we had another example of the diligence and dedication of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to the cause of animal welfare, for which I think he is well-known and has been so throughout his long and distinguished parliamentary career. I know that the RSPCA have helped tremendously to promote the Bill and produced a most comprehensive report in so doing, which shows clear evidence of the cruelty of tethering by owners—or dealers—of horses, ponies, donkeys and other animals. Sadly, in this country of animal-lovers there are many ignorant people who allow animals to suffer merely because of their own ignorance.

In conclusion, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the honourable Member for Basildon for introducing the Bill, and I hope that my noble friend will also give a warm welcome to this most worthy amendment to the 1911 Act.

8.28 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, whenever my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby brings forward proposals regarding animals, I am always confident that it will be to their benefit. Indeed, this small Bill is no exception. I am most grateful to him for his clear introduction to the Bill; and, like the noble Earl, I also hope that the necessary time will be given to it as my noble friend has indicated that there will certainly be one or two amendments.

I should like to mention the concerns of travellers and gypsies. I understand why they may be concerned. It is perhaps because of the hostility with which many local people regard travellers and gypsies. I have a small cottage in Essex which has a green just outside of it. A traveller tethers his horses there. He tethers them in our field to graze, and there have been examples when local people have complained that he has wrongly tethered them. However, I have never seen any indication of that. Therefore I understand the situation.

I have had a letter passed to me from a person living in Calverton Lane gypsy site. He feels that he might have to be worried. He also hopes that there has been consultation about the Bill. Perhaps my noble friend can confirm for the writer of the letter that there was consultation with the RSPCA before the Bill was presented.

The only thing we can do is to advise travellers and gypsies to have a copy of the RSPCA's excellent report Stray and Tethered Horses and Ponies and a copy of its code on tethering. If they can prove ownership of those documents they may be able to prove that they are looking after their horses correctly.

Except for that concern—I do not think that my noble friend can do anything about it in the Bill—I very much welcome the Bill and once again congratulate my noble friend on putting forward a useful piece of legislation which will protect animals from unnecessary suffering.

8.30 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and wish to thank him for taking up the Bill and bringing it forward for the consideration of this House. It is an occasion upon which we welcome the opportunity to express the Government's support.

It is already an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to cause unnecessary suffering to any domestic or captive animal, the definition of which includes horses, ponies and donkeys. It is also an offence, by virtue of the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960, to abandon an animal in circumstances likely to cause it unnecessary suffering. However, we understand that the RSPCA and others concerned with the welfare of horses consider that the prosecution of offences involving cruel tethering will be assisted by the creation of a specific offence. We have all heard of the appalling and shocking cases of cruelty outlined by the noble Lord and of neglect involving tethered horses and other equines.

The Government are fully committed to the protection of animals and welcome proposals designed to assist in bringing to book those who cause animals unnecessary suffering.

As the noble Lord has indicated, some technical amendments are required to the drafting of the Bill. Subject to that proviso, I am glad to commend the Bill to your Lordships.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Earl, the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs for their reception of the Bill. My noble friend mentioned anxiety, which is bound to be in the minds of a number of people. Let me say that those who care for their animals want to see them properly attended to, fed and watered if they do not have other accommodation for them. Animals may need protection in severe weather. That is another aspect of the problem. Such people must take care to treat their animals well.

If the Bill, and fear of it, will lead people to take that extra care it will have achieved a desirable objective. The Bill is intended to deal with cruelty. No one need fear that they will be hauled before a court for cruelty unless the animal they are supposed to be looking after is in such a condition that some inspector feels that there are strong grounds for a charge of cruelty, when proceedings may be taken in a court.

Those are the cases we want to stop. I know that generally more and more people are vigilant about the condition of animals they see in backyards, fields and elsewhere. I also know that in some areas there is prejudice against travelling people—gypsies, fairground people and so forth. Prejudice may come out in extra vigilance about the conditions in which such people keep their animals. If they take care all the time, they need have no fear.

Taking care of an animal is surely what people want to do when they take it on. I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House and eventually arrive on the statute book.

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

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before nine o'clock.