HL Deb 08 June 1988 vol 497 cc1477-80

7.57 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL CATHCART in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Offences relating to animal, fights]:

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 1 Page 1, line 27, at end insert—

("Advertising of animal fights.

5B. If a person who publishes or causes to be published an advertisement for a fight between animals knows that it is such an advertisement he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, it will be for the convenience of the Committee if we also deal with Amendment No. 2. The two amendments are linked.

It is with some emotion that I recall that on the day of the Second Reading of the Bill the House was invaded by hordes of noble Lords from the backwoods who had been summoned to impose a poll tax upon the peasantry. It was a day to remember. It was in the supper interval when this large assembly of noble Lords was being fed and watered along the corridor that we gave brief attention to the contents of this Bill.

I thought at one stage that it would not require any amendment; but I have been advised that it is perhaps desirable to tighten up the law regarding advertisements for dog-fighting, which is what we are mainly dealing with. The Bill already covers spectators at dog fights who were previously exempt from prosecution. Earlier legislation covered the organisers and promoters and participants; but it left the spectators to scatter, free of any charge of complicity in the proceedings. Clause 2 makes it clear that those who are spectators at a dog fight are liable to prosecution and the same fine as those who are active participants or organisers of this unlawful affair.

We come to the finer distinctions of the legislation in regard to those who advertise these events. In another place an honourable Member raised the question, "What about the people who advertise dog fights; are they caught in the mesh of the new criminal law?". It seemed to Ministers at the time that as regards advertising these events they could be caught under the original Protection of Animals Act 1911. As far as I can tell all that would have caught the advertisers was Section 1(1(c) which made it an offence for persons who, shall cause, procure or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal". That was probably not literally clear but it might do from the point of view of the construction of a court on the meaning of the word "procure".

There was some doubt as to other forms of advertising. Those who are promoting dog fights do not stick up notices on hoardings or put an advertisement in a local paper that would allow them to be identified as advertising a dog fight. They go about their business surreptitiously. Therefore, it became necessary to tighten the law regarding those who are engaged in giving information to procure people to attend a dog fight whether it is by the written word, poster, leaflet, fly-posting or by oral communication.

How do people get to these dog fights? They do not read about them in the local paper. There is word-of-mouth communication. The two amendments taken together are intended to pursue to the uttermost those who may be engaged in disseminating information with a view to procuring attendance at a dog fight. They will also catch the person who, while not connected with a dog fight, engages in the presentation or publication of an advertisement knowing that it is about a dog fight. This provides another difficulty of construction because dog fights are notified by code, so secretive do such persons have to be in keeping knowledge of their venue away from the police and inspectors of the RSPCA.

After much thought and expert attention, the amendments are intended to close all the loopholes. This is also an indication of how fastidious we are in drafting our legislation in this country. Loose terms and phraseology will not do; the wording has to be clear and specific. Apparently, there are some precedents for making certain kinds of advertisements unlawful. It has always been difficult to ascertain what is an advertisement and what is unlawful if it is an advertisement.

I am advised that the language will not penalise the person who unwittingly publishes or displays an advertisement which, being in coded form, he did not know related to an animal fight. There is the escape clause for those who unwittingly do something when they did not know they were advertising a dog fight. I hope that these two amendments can be added to the Bill making it as watertight as possible. Enforcement is difficult with these kinds of activities. With these amendments we have made as good a job of the Bill as is possible in difficult circumstances. I submit for approval to the Committee Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I support these two amendments. It seems entirely appropriate and relevant that those who publish, or cause to be published, an advertisement for a fight should be liable in the same way as those who attend it. I only hope that if it is in code it will be detected. I have no doubt that my noble friend has thought of some way in which this will be possible. This is an improvement to my noble friend's Bill and I add my support to it.

The Earl of Arran

For their part the Government recognise the strength of support for proposals to make it an offence to encourage attendance at an animal fight. Such encouragement is already an offence under the common law of incitement under which the penalty is the same as for the offence itself. The law of incitement applies whether the encouragement was given orally or in writing. However, given the strength of views expressed in another place and echoed in the Committee this evening in favour of there being a specific offence of advertising animal fights, we shall not demur as regards these amendments.

It is right that the person who unwittingly publishes or displays such advertisements is not penalised and we are satisfied that there are adequate safeguards in this respect. Therefore, the Government are pleased to support these amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 10, at end insert—

("Offence of advertising animal fights.

1B. If a person who publishes or causes to be published an advertisement for a fight between animals knows that it is such an advertisement he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment perhaps I may apologise for the lateness in putting down the amendments, which led to some confusion on the Marshalled List this morning. I was waiting for the amendments to be cleared by the necessary authorities before I submitted them to the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Perhaps I may refer to a matter which I dealt with for a short time on Second Reading; namely, forfeiture. At Second Reading, the Minister explained that in the view of the government forfeiture of equipment and other apparatus used in connection with dog fights would include if necessary, and if the decison of the court was to that effect, the dogs themselves. Having got spectators, organisers, promoters and advertisers, we have everyone except the dogs.

The dogs are there too; so it seems that they should be forfeited together with the equipment and other apparatus used in connection with dog fights. The point at issue is whether any reference should be made in this Bill to forfeiture of dogs and animals in connection with these offences specifically or whether that matter should be left to the general criminal law. It is believed and pretty well firmly established in all our minds that Clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill now before another place and which will later come here will deal with forfeiture generally where offences involve the use of equipment and apparatus which can properly be seized as part of the penalty of the delinquents concerned. Therefore I do not think it is necessary to attempt to deal separately in this Bill with the forfeiture of animals except generally in dealing with what forfeiture means. Any doubt can be cleared up when we come to Clause 68 of the Criminal Justice Bill. Therefore, Clause 2 does not need the amendment which in some quarters was thought desirable earlier on.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.