HL Deb 20 April 1993 vol 544 cc1437-42

7.28 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

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

This Private Member's Bill comes to your Lordships' House from another place where it was successfully sponsored by my own Member of Parliament, the honourable Member for Tayside, North, Mr. Bill Walker. In the House of Commons, my honourable friend had all-party support for the Bill, as well as the support of the Government.

The Bill is a simple two-clause measure. By means of amending the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912, it increases the maximum fine which Scottish courts can impose on people convicted of cruelty to domestic or captive animals in Scotland. If the Bill becomes law, the maximum penalty for such cruelty—and I stress that it will be the maximum penalty—would be a fine at level 5 on the standard scale, which is currently £5,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both. The present maximum is set at level 4, currently £2,500 or six months' imprisonment, or both.

The Bill would bring the maximum fine up to the level applying to equivalent offences south of the Border, a move advocated strongly by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

I should make it clear that the Bill applies to domestic and captive animals only. Domestic animals are defined for this purpose in Section 13 of the 1912 Act. They include farm animals, horses, fowls, dogs and cats or any species which is tame or has been sufficiently tamed to serve some purpose for man.

Captive animals are defined to include any species of animal, bird, fish or reptile which is in captivity or confinement. The Bill does not apply to wild animals. As your Lordships will be aware, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects certain species of wildlife including endangered species of mammals. Badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

The offences of cruelty to domestic and captive animals to which the Bill applies are divided into five groups under Section 1 of the 1912 Act. They cover ill treatment such as beating or kicking; torturing or causing unnecessary suffering; unnecessary suffering during transportation; fighting and baiting; the administration of poison and drugs; and subjecting an animal to an operation without due care or humanity.

A further offence of abandoning an animal in certain circumstances was created more recently under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. Since the penalty for that offence is expressed in that Bill as the same as the penalties in the 1912 Act, the Bill we are now discussing increases in Scotland the maximum penalty for abandoning an animal, along with the other offences.

Your Lordships will appreciate that the Bill deals only with the maximum penalty that can be imposed for such cruelty. It is of course for the courts to determine the appropriate fine or length of prison sentence, or both, for a particular offender in the light of his or her circumstances and of the particular offence.

The new maximum created by the Bill is a heavy penalty indeed, but the wide variety of circumstances and the types of cruelty that are possible mean that there must be a wide variety of possible penalties from a small fine upwards. A maximum fine of £5,000 or a prison sentence of up to six months, or both, should surely be available to the courts where the person is found guilty of, for example, the organisation of dog fighting or dog baiting; the deliberate cruelty to a large number of dogs kept in commercial kennels; cruelty by starvation of, say, 200 cattle on a farm; or a crime such as the mutilation of horses which has caused such dreadful suffering recently in the South of England. Such a maximum penalty might apply also to cruelty within a zoo, although I understand that the regular inspection of zoos in Scotland under the zoo licensing system successfully ensures high standards of protection for animals there.

It is interesting to note that, although the availability of maximum penalties is clearly important, in recent years most offences have attracted comparatively small fines. According to Scottish Office figures, in 1991 a total of 43 people were fined, of whom 18 had to pay £100 or less, and the average fine overall was £227. In 1990, 69 people were fined, the average amount being £250, and 32 people paid £100 and less. So the majority of fines are at the lower end of the scale. In 1990, one person only was fined anything approaching the maximum; in 1991, no one was fined the maximum. As for imprisonment, six people in Scotland were sent to prison in 1991 for offences mainly under the 1912 Act and of those, three sentences were of three months, two of four months and one of six months. In 1990 there were four prison sentences, two of four months and one of six months—the maximum.

I turn to the Bill. Clause 1 amends the 1912 Act in the way that I have described. Clause 2 limits the Bill to Scotland and provides that the Bill will come into force two months after receiving Royal Assent. I shall be glad to attempt to reply to any questions noble Lords may ask. I hope, nevertheless, that your Lordships will feel that this is a wise and necessary measure for Scotland and will give it a smooth passage towards the statute book. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Carnegy of Lour.)

7.36 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I thank my noble neighbour, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for giving a full explanation of the possible results of the Bill and the type of cruelty that it is designed to combat. In the agricultural community there is a feeling that cruelty to animals is not understood by a number of people. For example, I saw an article the other day in which the author said he saw an animal being chivvied with a stick around the ring at a market and he considered that to be cruel. No attendant in a market will ever hit an animal with a stick because that damages the animal. He merely taps it with a stick to make it move around.

Will the Minister confirm that the proposed large fines will be confined to, or are intended for, the gross neglect of animals on the part perhaps of farmers and transporters and deliberate acts of cruelty such as dog baiting and dog fighting? No one can object to the upgrading of the penalties for any form of cruelty to animals, which is something we all deplore.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the Bill. There is no question but that we on this side of the House support the Bill. I am sure that the noble Baroness read the proceedings in another place and saw that a point was raised by the honourable Member for Perth and Kinross. There is always a feeling with Scottish Bills that it is not good enough just to copy English Bills; they should be considered on their merits.

The honourable Member for Perth and Kinross views himself as a guardian of Scottish law. He does not like the homogenisation of the penalties or the law. That is fair because we have our own way of life in Scotland. It has been shown throughout history, and it is becoming more obvious in many areas, especially that of criminal law, that south of the Border tends to copy many aspects of our law. With this Bill, I do not feel that we are seriously compromising Scottish law, and even the honourable Member for Perth and Kinross did not attempt to oppose it.

There is only one point on which I seek assistance from the noble Baroness or perhaps from the honourable and learned Member on the Front Bench—

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, he is not honourable; he is noble.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I mean the noble and learned Lord, but I think that he is honourable too most of the time. An issue which hit the public's attention was that of residential kennels for dogs. Someone sending their pet to kennels for a fortnight may feel uneasy and I seek clarification. We support the noble Baroness in her efforts to pass the Bill through this House and we shall support her as much as possible.

7.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend for sponsoring in this House an important measure which, as she indicated, enjoys the support of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. My single purpose is to confirm that my noble friend's Bill also enjoys the full support of the Government.

As my noble friend fully and lucidly explained the Bill's content and the context within which the Bill is set, nothing would be added to your Lordships' understanding if I were to repeat what she said. I confirm that it brings Scotland into line with the maximum fine which applies in England and Wales. That was set at level 5 by the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1987. That Act was also the result of a Private Member's measure. The Government considered in 1987 whether the measure could be extended to Scotland but it was concluded that such an extension would have required change to the Long Title of that Bill, which would have seriously delayed its passage.

I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that nothing in the substantive nature of the offences to be found in the 1912 Act is altered by the Bill. The maximum penalty is extended. There is accordingly no particular reason why those who look after animals sensibly and properly within the agricultural community have anything to fear from the Bill. However, if any individual grossly mistreats or acts cruelly towards farm animals and is convicted, the court might in what I would consider to be exceptional circumstances go to the top limit. However, the maximum fine might be expected in the circumstances which my noble friend outlined.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that there have been cases of dogs being badly treated in kennels. In certain cases prosecutions have been brought over the way in which animals have been looked after or neglected. Whether such a case attracts anything like the maximum penalty depends on the facts and circumstances. As the noble Lord with his long experience will appreciate, it is for the court to determine whether the maximum fine or anything approaching it should be imposed.

The Government abhor cruelty to animals for whatever reason. In recent years we have thus promoted or supported measures which permit the courts to disqualify a person from keeping animals on first being convicted of an offence involving cruelty and which make it an offence to attend or to advertise an animal fight. We are now glad to support this measure. That level of maximum fine is a most worthwhile addition to the existing powers of the Scottish courts, which may already impose a custodial sentence of up to six months imprisonment and disqualify the convicted person from future ownership of an animal.

I wish to commend the work of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is vital for the protection of animals. That is particularly so in the present context where often the evidence of the society's inspectors is crucial in securing the conviction of those involved in offences of cruelty. I am glad to confirm that the Bill is wholly supported by the Government.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I am glad that they believe that it is right to raise the issue in this way. My noble and learned friend has replied to the questions which were asked. However, perhaps I may say to my noble neighbour Lord Mackie of Benshie that in such matters one must trust the courts to understand what happens in a cattle mart and that one cannot control many cattle without a few gentle taps with a stick. There is a high penalty because sometimes offences of great cruelty are committed. However, the existence of the penalty does not mean that it is considered by a court when a minor crime is committed. I believe that most courts understand how a mart works; we all understand the anxieties of farmers in that respect.

I turn to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I believe that my honourable and learned friend Sir Nicholas Fairbairn is right to ensure that we do not simply harmonise Scots law with English law. Our needs are different. Often we need to alter the penalties or put the issues slightly differently. For one reason or another we have in respect of this matter lagged behind, but it now seems to me time for the maximum penalty to be the same.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and also my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench for his support and for the help I have received from his department in seeking examples of offences which might attract the maximum fine. I am grateful to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It knows how the penalties are working across the country and it has a great deal of information which is helpful to us. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.47 to 8.30 p.m.]