HL Deb 22 June 1988 vol 498 cc823-9

7.10 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 LORD HAYTER in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Offence of cruel tethering]:

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 1: Page line 6, at end insert (""or").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I have to report with some distress that my team of horses, ponies and donkeys has broken up and it is necessary to reassemble something in their place under good order and discipline. I suppose it is only to be expected that any Bill that goes through another place without any discussion is bound to cause some trouble when it gets here. That is just what has happened because we find that, according to the conventions of the Chamber and the legislation, we have to be careful about our definitions. "Horses" includes "ponies" and therefore there is no need to mention ponies separately from horses.

The next problem is that donkeys apparently do not exist in animal protection law. Most of these laws were passed so long ago that the lovable donkey had not come into circulation; so there are asses. In a way, this Bill could relate to horses and asses. That in fact is what we are doing now. We have to convert this Bill from one dealing with horses, ponies and donkeys into one that deals with horses and asses.

However, as the Committee will see in a moment or two, a noble Lord may say to me, "What about mules?" I did not know about mules. Somebody else may say, "What about other animals which are tethered from time to time?" Mules present a problem, because they have not been mentioned in the principal Act of 1911 in quite the clear form that enables us to proceed without some consideration.

I therefore move Amendment No. 1 and I will link it with Amendment No. 2. We therefore start on our process of reformation and we will delete "pony or donkey" and insert "or ass". That will not be the end of our trouble because we still have "mule" to deal with later. But at the moment I think we should move one step at a time in this complex situation—much more complex, I may say, than religion in schools—and then go on from here.

I can only recommend that the Committee should accept this amendment. I am sorry about it. The romance has to some extent been taken out of this Bill. After all, the title we have been using has excited a good deal of interest. People have said to me, in all sorts of places and at all sorts of different times, "How are your horses, ponies and donkeys getting on?" Here am I, having to abandon them and having to be content with horses and asses, which are not anything like so romantic.

I may add that the reason this Bill is called a No. 2 Bill is that the earlier Bill was withdrawn and replaced by a second Bill in another place. That is another little hitch in the situation, because we shall come in a moment or two to the question as to whether the title of the Bill has to be altered. However, for the moment I will take the Committee on step at a time. I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

Lord Kilbracken

In spite of what my noble friend has said to the Committee, I think we have to consider my Amendment No. 3 at this stage because, on my reading of it, if Amendment No. 2 were agreed I would not be able to move my Amendment No. 3.

I agree entirely with what my noble friend has said about ponies and donkeys. There is no reason whatsoever for including a pony, because a pony is just a small horse. The great racehorse Hyperion, who won the Derby in the 1930s, being under 14.2 hands, was in fact a pony and therefore would have been covered by the definition. On donkeys and asses, my noble friend said that donkeys do not exist. I believe that donkeys do exist, and indeed the dictionaries tell us that donkey and ass are synonymous; but because it is the word "ass" that is used in the 1911 Act my feeling is that we should conform with the usage in the Act, which means that I agree with my noble friend on those two points.

However, he has already raised the question of the mule. Why should mules, on which I have ridden many miles in the mountains of the Yeman and Kurdistan, be omitted from the benefits of the Act? The mule is a sterile hybrid between the horse and the donkey—an animal, it has been said, with no pride in the past or hope for the future. At present, not being either a horse or a donkey, it can be tethered as cruelly as anybody likes. I should like to remedy that.

Furthermore, my noble friend said that the mule did not feature in the 1911 Act, but I must say I did not find that to be the case. I found that each time equine animals were mentioned in the 1911 Act it specified horses, mules and donkeys. Therefore I suggest that in this Bill, which will amend Section 1 of the Act, we should again use the same language and include mules.

What, I hear your Lordships thinking, about hinnies? If any noble Lord does not know about hinnies, the answer is that if the sire is a donkey and the dam is a mare then the progeny is a mule, but if it is the other way round—which apparently happens less frequently—then the progeny is called a hinny. The only known progeny of that great steeple-chaser Cottage Rake was a hinny, because shortly before he was gelded a she-ass was left in the same field for company and she happened to come into season: Cottage Rake took advantage of this. That progeny is technically known as a hinny. Fortunately the dictionaries tell us that the word "mule" is popularly taken to include hinny. As they are not mentioned in the 1911 Act, I feel that it is perhaps unnecessary to include them here. Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 I see as being consequential on Amendment No. 3. As my noble friend suggested, I should prefer to wait until they are called to speak to them.

I should mention finally that there is a small misprint in the amendment. The first time that the word "or" appears it should not appear. It should read: and insert ('ass or mule')". It still makes sense if that superfluous conjunction is left in, but I prefer that it should be deleted.

The only effect of my amendment is that, in addition to the inclusion of my noble friend's point, protection would be given to the humble mule. That is why I have tabled it, and I hope that it will be preferred to that of my noble friend.

The Earl of Arran

I crave the indulgence of the Committee because we are not aware of the existence of Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 as apparently tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken.

I can however speak to Amendment No. 1 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, concerning "ass". The proposed amendment does not alter the scope of the Bill and its purpose is to bring the Bill's terminology into line with that used in the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which the Bill seeks to amend. In the 1911 Act the term "horse" is defined as including pony so that reference to "pony" in Clause 1 of the Bill is superfluous. In the 1911 Act the term "ass" is used in place of the term "donkey". To be consistent with that Act, the Bill should do the same. That said, we support the amendment.

Lord Kilbracken

Is the noble Earl aware that, as I said, the humble mule is also included in all reference to equine species in the 1911 Act? It should therefore surely be included in any future amending legislation.

The Earl of Arran

I am not aware of that, and I apologise if I should be aware of it. Perhaps we may come back to the point on Report. We may be able to satisfy everybody concerned in writing before Report.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

We want to bring mules under the protection of the Bill without making ourselves look ridiculous. We can surely bring the mule into the Bill without a lot of palaver and without any substantial technical difficulty. If we cannot do that, it is time that we examined our procedures.

I suggest that my noble friend Lord Kilbracken should withdraw his amendments and that we allow mine to go forward. We can then try to get this sorted out—the title of the Bill and everything—before the next stage. My difficulty is that I have not had the opportunity to consult the sponsor of the Bill in another place, Mr. Amess, Member of Parliament for Basildon; indeed, I have had little time to consult anyone. I received advice from the Home Office yesterday suggesting that it would complicate matters unnecessarily if we tried to bring in the mule without contemplating other changes, including changes to the title. Unfortunately, some difficulties arise in the legislative procedure in altering long titles and short titles. The more the public see of how we have to cope with tradition, technical problems and legislative practice, the more I think they will feel sorry for us and say that it is about time we had some better procedure to do what we wish to do.

I can only suggest therefore that without further discussion we make progress in Committee and consider the mule on report. That is the best solution. If not, I shall have to go to the 1911 Act and show how the mule can be accommodated within the definitions of the various species therein. I shall not read them out, but the mules and the asses are there and it is clear that donkeys are not there. In that case, we can dispose of donkeys and get donkeys out of it. I am sorry about that because they are lovable and intelligent animals. They are a bit stubborn, but so be it. Let us get them out of it; we can then finish the Committee stage and, if time permits, we can probably take a little refreshment before the hordes come back to resume on education.

I hope that my noble friend will accede to this. If not, some difficulty may arise between the Minister and me as to what other changes might be made. I hope that I can be got out of this difficulty.

Lord Kilbracken

If my noble friend wants the Bill to embrace the mule, there is no palaver necessary at all. The Committee simply has to accept Amendment No. 3. When we reach Report, I expect to be somewhere in the wilds of the Middle East and unable to table an amendment. However, as it has been requested by my noble friend, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment. This will make Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 superfluous, which I shall not move.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I have moved Amendment No. 1 and I suggest with great respect that we decide on that.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("pony or donkey") and insert ("or ass").

The noble Lord said: The amendment does not cover the mule, but I feel that it should be included in the Bill so that the mule can be attended to at a subsequent stage. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 8, leave out ("or position").

The noble Lord said: I mentioned this on Second Reading. The Bill as it stands reads: shall tether any horse, pony or donkey under such conditions or in such manner or position as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering". The point has been raised by horse trainers and breakers that there are certain procedures which are gone through in breaking in a horse. They might be regarded as an offence under this clause, so we agree that the word "position" should come out. Then I think there will be no doubt that we are talking about: in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering". That ought to be good enough. I beg to move. On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

Perhaps I may add a couple of points here. I do not wish to enter into the discussion on terminology but to reiterate a point which I made on Second Reading. The great irony of this Bill is that it has caused great anxiety to travellers and gypsies—the very people who tether their horses and the very people against whom the RSPCA makes it quite clear that the Bill is not directed. They are the people who look after their horses best. The trouble is, as I said on Second Reading, that travellers are very often viewed with great suspicion by the local people. They feel that this Bill could give an extra stick to the local people with which to beat the travellers.

Therefore perhaps my noble friend would be so good as to confirm the two points which appear to give the travellers anxiety. The first is very simple, that this Bill does not make tethering illegal. The second point is that the code of practice which has been issued by the RSPCA is merely a guidance and is not part of the Bill. In that case, if the travellers did not carry out every single point of this code of practice and the guidance which has come from the RSPCA, and if they deviated from any of those points, they would not be considered outside the law. I think it would give a lot of comfort to travellers—I know my noble friend did this on Second Reading so perhaps he would do it again—for him to confirm that the Bill has no adverse effect on those people who look after their animals.

I must admit that at the weekend I met some local people who had read a very lurid description of the Bill in Horse and Hound. One of them had sold two of the horses because they were so concerned about the effects which they suspected—wrongly I know—that the Bill would have. Therefore in order to put those anxieties at rest perhaps I may ask my noble friend briefly to confirm the two points I have mentioned.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I am aware of the angle on the Bill which my noble friend has raised. I am also aware that letters come to me asking why cruelty cannot be forestalled by a stipulation of certain tethering conditions. What would be a model tether and what steps could be taken to enforce its use are an entirely new subject. I promise my noble friend that on Third Reading I shall be prepared to make a statement on this. I think that some fears have to be allayed.

On the other hand, there are people who have horses, and plenty of them live by horses. It has been said that the British Empire was built up on the back of a horse. We are generally regarded as being kind to horses. The first protection of animals legislation had the horse and the dog in mind. That is where animal protection began. The poor old cow did not get much attention then nor the bull. After all, there are tethered bulls and we have not mentioned their tribulations. There was one in a field near me which pawed the ground until there was a big hole and I thought, "I don't know whether that is cruel but it certainly caused him great psychological distress". However we have not dealt with bulls. I think we must be content with going as far as the mule and see how we get on; that is the best we can do. I am sure that there is a moral in this Bill somewhere as regards the position.

I hope that we can now proceed to deal with Clause 2 and Amendment No. 6. There needs to be something in the Bill to say when the Bill as an Act of Parliament should begin. If we did not have a delay of two months it would begin on the day after it received its Royal Assent and then the courts would have all sorts of difficulties in each particular case.

Lord Kilbracken

On clause stand part, I want to say that I share the feelings of sympathy towards travelling people which have been expressed by my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs. But I cannot see how there can be any feelings of apprehension that under this legislation the tethering of any horse would become illegal. The proposed paragraph states quite clearly that the illegality is in tethering any horse: in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering". If it is not tethered in that manner, then of course it is not against the law.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Short title]:

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 10, at end insert— ("(2) This Act shall come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which it is passed.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Title agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.