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Docking And Nicking Of Horses Bill

Volume 462: debated on Friday 4 March 1949

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Order for Second Reading read.

2.30 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I should like to start by reading out the long Title of the Bill:
"A Bill to restrict the docking and nicking of horses and to prohibit the importation of horses with docked or nicked tails."
The hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) was pulled up a week ago because he did not declare his interest in badgers. I had, therefore, better be on the safe side and declare my interest in the noble animal the horse. Since the days when I used to lark about on a donkey to the present time, I have been interested in the breeding, driving, riding and general welfare of horses. I have never been a party to docking horses in my life. A similar Bill to this was passed in another place in the Spring of 1938, and in July, 1939, a Bill was presented by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and read a First time under, I think, the Ten-Minute Rule on a Wednesday.

Clause 1 (1) reads:
"Save as hereinafter provided, the operations of docking and of nicking of horses are prohibited."
It is proposed that that should take effect from 1st January, 1950. Perhaps it would be as well if I read out Clause 3 which gives the interpretation of docking and nicking:
"'Docking' means the deliberate removal of any bone or any part of a bone from the tail of a horse, and the expression 'docked' shall be construed accordingly;"
I think that there are very few people in this country who know what nicking means, because I have often been asked that question. The interpretation is:
" 'Nicking' means the deliberate severing of any tendon or muscle in the tail of a horse, and the expression nicked' shall be construed accordingly."
What really happens with nicking is that the muscle underneath the tail is cut, so that the horse's tail goes straight up and it cannot pull it down.

Why are we against this docking and nicking? The horse's tail is nature's instrument to remove flies and to give the hind parts of the animal warmth. On the forward parts of the animal there is provided by nature a fly muscle, and the animal has the power to twitch this muscle when flies alight on its skin and thus remove them; but the fly muscle does not extend to the hind quarters, and that is why nature gives the animal a tail so that it can swing it and scare the flies off its hind quarters and buttocks. When a horse is docked, normally at least four inches of its tail are removed, and it is from the last four inches of the tail that the long hairs grow. Shorter hairs grow higher up the tail. When the poor brute is docked, it can never get a long tail with which to flick away the flies.

Docking is usually practised on foals, although I have known it to be done to fully grown horses, and that, I think, is more cruel than ever. The foals live out-of-doors most of the time until taken in to work, and all that time these youngsters cannot get the flies off their hind parts. When they grow up, they may become working horses in the towns. We have flies in the towns as well as in the country, and they cannot get them off. Further, there is a considerable draught under a wagon standing in a street when the wind is blowing behind it, and if a horse has not its tail tucked into its quarters it gets a draught under its middle and that is not too comfortable for it.

Horses working in the country are sweating and pulling. The flies settle on the sweating horses, and they cannot get them off. When they have done their day's work in the Summer they are turned out, and I have seen horses standing and swinging their tails and rubbing against each other when they have been docked, but they cannot get the flies off. When one goes to a farm where horses are not docked—and I am glad to say that there are many such farms in this country where people will not dock their horses—one sees the horses at peace on the pasture, standing head to tail and swinging their tails to clear the flies off their buttocks and heads. I sometimes feel that I should like to tie up a man who docks horses under rather similar conditions. I should like to tie his hands together and fasten him with very few clothes on to a post in the middle of a field, and then watch him. He would not dock any more horses after that.

I now come to the reasons for docking. In the case of heavy horses, this is done, in the first place, for smartness and to show off the strength of the horse's hindquarters. It is normally done with stallions. I have shown a stallion with a long tail and my horse was at the bottom of the list because long tails were not fashionable. Another reason for docking their tails is because when they are long they get muddy and they foul the reins. I do not think much of the men who cannot get over those little troubles. There is no need for a horse to have a long tail. A horses tail can always be pulled, and when it goes to work the tail can be plaited up, which takes a very short time. I do not think much of the carter or horseman who cannot take the trouble to do that job for his horses. As to fouling, if the tail is tied up the horse does not get it over the reins. I have never docked a horse and I have farmed for a good many years and have never had any trouble at all in that way.

With regard to light horses, I will start with the hackney. Every hackney so far as I know is docked. We have got used to having hackneys docked. They pick up their front feet and their tails stick up. I do not think that it is a very beautiful sight. Nor do I think it is beyond the wit of the Hackney Society to be able to get over their troubles. The horses still swing their tails over the reins, which is likely to give trouble when they are giving a show round the ring. In the days of Walter Winans who used to drive trotters or pacers, I forget which, they did not pick their feet up so much, but they went at a dickens of a pace, and I never heard of any trouble with their tails. They devised a carriage which the animal pulled and there was no trouble. I have no doubt that the hackney people could get over this difficulty.

We see a certain number of cobs driven in milk carts, and such like, with docked tails and just as many with long tails. There should not be much difficulty in that case because the dashboards could be raised or the rail on top of it. One sees a certain number of weight-carrying cobs with or without long tails. It is purely a question of fashion. I am glad to see that some of the big shows are offering special prizes now for cobs with long tails. My last point on this issue is that last year in the coaching class of the Royal Richmond Horse show there were nine teams in the ring and only one team had their tails cut. If anybody says it is difficult to drive a four-in-hand with long-tailed horses I suggest he should go to the coaching class at Richmond Horse show and use his eyes.

I have received no objections from any source since this Bill was published, but on the contrary I have received encouragement from all parts of the country. I do not think there can be very much objection to it in the country. The breed societies—this is my own personal opinion—will be rather thankful. Fifty per cent. of the members dock their horses, and the other 50 per cent. do not. If it is the law of the land that nobody should dock a horse everyone will be satisfied. I am glad to say that there is very little nicking done in this country. The horse's tail is not normally docked and nicked at the same time. If a horse has a long tail, it is cut and also a muscle underneath it, with the result that the poor brute, as it were, has got its tail up for life and cannot pull it down. I am sure every hon. Member will feel that that is a horrible practice and ought to be stopped, as is proposed by this Bill.

Clause 1 (2) deals with permission for docking for members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for reasons of health. That is a reasonable Clause. Clause 2 prohibits the importation into this country of horses with docked or nicked tails. I understand that that is going to be the cause of a little difficulty, but we who support this Bill are prepared in Committee to see if there is not some way of evercoming the difficulty which has arisen in connection with Eire and Northern Ireland. That can be done if there is good will on all sides. These involved legal problems do arise, and they have to be tackled. No doubt we shall hear more from the Parliamentary Secretary when he speaks on this Measure.

Clause 3 says:
" 'horse' includes stallion, gelding, colt, mare, filly, pony, mule and hinny."
I must say I was rather against the word "hinny." We do not use it in my part of the world, but I understand that it is another word for "jenny," which is a mule the other way round. That completes the Bill, and I have great pleasure in commending it to the House and hoping that it will be given a Second Reading.

2.44 p.m.

I beg to second the Motion.

This is a very necessary, simple and humane Bill, and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading, because I am sure it is timely. Undoubtedly the practice of docking horses tails is declining. One veterinary surgeon in my district told me he has not had a request to dock a horse's tail for a very long time. Public opinion is definitely turning against it, because it is much less practised than it used to be. Nevertheless, the practice still continues, and it is desirable that this House should take steps to stop it altogether.

I know that there are still people, including workers on the land, who argue that a horse's tail is a nuisance when ploughing has to be done, although nearly all ploughing is now done by tractor, or when hay making, because the reins get underneath the tail. That is a little difficulty with which we have to deal, and is no excuse for inflicting pain and suffering on an animal. One of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that it deprives the animal of its natural protection against flies, and anyone who knows what it is like on a hot, sultry July day when flies are about, will appreciate how necessary it is that animals should have this natural protection. If an animal has not that natural protection it suffers greatly.

When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fareham (Sir D. White) moved the Second Reading of this Bill, he pointed out that there are natural features given to horses to protect them against flies. There is a nerve which enables it to twitch and get rid of a fly on certain foreparts of the body and along the belly and forelock. Then the horse with a shake of its head can get the fly off its forehead and from its eyes. There is the mane which falls on both sides of the neck and a shake there frees the neck of flies. There are also certain parts of the back where, although there is no nerve and which the horse cannot reach with its mouth, has a very thick skin through which the horse fly's proboscis cannot penetrate. The hind flanks have no protection except the tail, and if the horse's tail is got rid of it has no means of protecting itself. What right has man to interfere with Nature's provisions? If these facts were known they would do more than anything else to get rid of this practice. There are still those who think it looks nicer in the show ring to have horses docked, but the show ring has no right to take precedence over humaneness to animals.

This country is behind other countries in this matter, which is rather unusual, because in all questions concerning the treatment of animals we as a nation are most sensitive and generally in advance of other countries. Here we seem to be lagging behind. Several states of the United States of America have prohibited this practice, as have Norway and Germany I understand that the law which operated in Germany before the war is in force now. It is not actually prohibited in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, but it is not the practice in those countries to dock tails. I think it is time that we got rid of what is really nothing more than an anachronism.

2.50 p.m.

I intervene for a few moments to add my support to this Bill and to hope that it receives a Second Reading. My ex- perience is mainly with light and heavy horses. For some years now I have not had any driving horses, and I admit therefore that I am not fully qualified to deal with the subject from that point of view. I am certain, however from my experience of light and heavy horses, that docking is unnecessary and inflicts a definite hardship on the horses. Heavy horses are today turned out much more owing to shortage of food and also, I am afraid, owing to shortage of work because tractors are doing most of the work on the farms. I cannot see any justification for docking even in the case of driving horses.

Docking is merely a fashion, but as we all know fashions change. As was pointed out, of nine teams at the Royal Horse Show at Richmond last year only one was docked. We are really pushing at an open door as this custom is passing out of its own accord. I have said that fashions change, and in this respect I never thought I should get used to cattle breeds which normally have horns being without them, but the Ayrshire Society has now, as we all know, admitted dishorned Ayrshires. At first these animals looked very strange, but as we have seen them more and more they have become quite presentable. I do not think there is much danger, in the case of driving horses, of the rein getting under the tail if the horses are properly driven. But the rein, of course, can be held under a docked tail and be just as dangerous to the animal. And so I do not consider that there is any justification for continuing this custom, which is only done for the look of the thing and possibly because it saves a certain amount of trouble in the stable—to keep a good tail means a certain amount of work. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.

2.54 p.m.

The only difficulty I have with this Bill is in wondering why it was not introduced years ago. It exemplifies the fact that many of the admirable Measures that come from this House are the work of private Members. This is the sort of Bill everyone desires to see brought in, but no Government of any colour seems to have time to introduce them. I have always thought the fashion of docking horses' tails was largely due to grooms persuading their owners that horses look better this way, and because it is not a pleasant thing to get a flick from a horse's tail, which quite often happens and is very painful. I have always suspected that tails have been docked in order to save trouble for the person working with the horse.

It is a remarkable fact that if a horse is turned out in a field for all the year round and is given an open shed in the corner, it does not matter how rough is the weather during the winter he will not go into the shed, unless it is snowing, whereas in the summer he will spend most of his time there because of the flies. A horse feels flies more than anything else, and to deprive him of his natural protection is an extreme form of cruelty.

A word has been said about the provisions of Clause 2, which refers to importing horses into the United Kingdom. I suppose that this refers to the very controversial part of the country from which I come, namely, Northern and Southern Ireland. I am told that there may be differences, and I should be interested to hear what they are, because my experience so far as Southern Ireland is concerned is that most horses are turned out to the English market. It follows that as soon as it ceases to be the fashion to dock tails in this country Ireland will send her horses over without docked tails. No one in Southern Ireland desires to dock tails any more than anyone in this country. People are just as humane on the other side of the channel as they are in this country. I can foresee no difficulty at all in this connection. I imagine that the reason for this Clause is to prevent a person who is found with a horse with a docked tail saying that it has just been imported from Ireland. I have no hesitation in supporting this Bill, which is admirable and should be non-controversial.

2.58 p.m.

It is on occasions like this that we find there exists a greater affinity than is normally suspected between those of us who spend most of our time in the towns and those who spend most of their lives in the country. This Bill is not just a countryman's Measure. It may interest the House to know that the necessity for this kind of Measure was impressed upon me by my father who is a townsman of yeoman descent. He made it a practice to take his children to farms and also to horse shows as often as possible. There is a great comradeship between man and that noblest of all creatures, the horse. I can remember some 30 years ago when I was a boy having it pointed out to me by townsmen that there was a need for a Measure of this kind. I remember also my father giving us an object lesson in man's lack of compassion as compared with nature's generous provision for the equine kind by taking us out on a very hot day and pointing out the wild ponies of Dartmoor. He said, "You see how much more comfortable and happy those are than the horses I took you to see at the show at Yelverton the other day." That stuck in my memory. It was a simple object lesson of the feelings of an ordinary townsman concerned with the things that belong to us all.

I am very happy today, because I believe that the Bill will get its Second Reading. It is approved, I believe, by 99 per cent. of the people of the country who have heard about it. I myself have received no objection to the Bill but I have had plenty of commendations of it; and I represent a constituency with a considerable riding population. We are discussing the Bill only just in time, because, as hon. Members have said, public opinion has very nearly beaten us to it.

There seems to be some apprehension about Clause 2. Before we are given an admonition from official quarters, I should like to support the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage). We ought not to run away from the real implications of the Bill. We are actually behind some of our own Dominions and a good many foreign countries in making a provision of this nature. Irish breeders have always taken particular note of what they think are the requirements of people here and have tried to shape their fashion accordingly. We are their principal and natural customers. There is a very great common understanding between horsemen and breeders in Ireland and those in this country. Unless very cogent reasons were given, I should hesitate to do anything to weaken the power of Clause 2.

I believe there is a very inconsiderable minority of people who, for either reason —of fashion or of their own convenience —would prefer not to see the Bill on the Statute Book. We can disregard them, for their fight is that of man against nature, a fight which is condemned by all humane people who understand the protection which the horse is afforded by his tail. For that reason, I hope we shall not have a cold douche from the Under-Secretary of State about any part of the Bill, and that we shall do our best to see that as much of the Bill as possible is unaltered during the Committee stage, so that, at long last, we may achieve a much-needed and long-awaited reform.

3.3 p.m.

This unanimity in the House is most heartening and indicates that at long last this battle for the horse has come to an end. I suppose that I, too, should disclose my interest. I am a member of the Council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has promoted the Bill, a member of the Horse Society and a judge and on the council of the London Van and Cart Horse Societies. I have had the opportunity, therefore, of judging horses docked and undocked..

The Bill is a sort of belated attempt to undo the hurt caused to British horses by Hitler, for it was just when the late war was approaching—before, probably, our minds had been attuned to the question of survival and when we still had some consideration for humanity—that my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) introduced a similar Bill. I remember that occasion very well. It was a lovely July day—the 12th, a date which my hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) will no doubt recall, like myself, with happy memories. At that time London was revelling in the glamorous delights of the Horse Show at Olympia. I went to the Horse Show on the evening of the day that the Bill was introduced. It is an odd coincidence that amongst all that galaxy of the most perfect animals the world could produce, not one horse at that show had been docked.

As we know, the Bill got a Second Reading and was proceeding happily to further stages when suddenly Hitler dominated all our lives. Unhappily, suddenly our lives became much more im- portant than the health and comfort of our trusty friend, the horse, and, as no further opportunity occurred to bring the Bill to full fruition, it had to be dropped. Then Private Members' time was confiscated and this is the first opportunity we have had to rectify the wrong done exactly 10 years ago. I am glad and I hope everyone will be pleased that this Bill has met with such a welcome reception from all sides of the House. I am hopeful that as a result the Under-Secretary will not, as on some previous occasions, submit points of difference, rather than points of agreement. Points of difference can be dealt with in Committee; points of agreement can be stressed on Second Reading.

The only reason why docking became a habit in this country, was because of the hackney breed. It is a modern device, but during hundreds of years in which horses have played their gallant, gay and useful part in our lives, it has hardly been known, except on purely health reasons, or when an accident happened and a veterinary surgeon had to he called in. The hackney fashion is only a fashion like the "handlebar moustache" or the "new look" and is equally passing. Now we have the opportunity, it is up to this House to see that this so-called smart fashion is finally killed.

Surely the "handlebar moustache" is a return to nature's protection and the hon. and gallant Member would not advocate its being shaved off?

While I am grateful to the hon. Member, I think I had better go back to my arguments. Let us marshal the arguments; first those in favour of the Bill. There are three, and the first is based on common sense. Manes, tails and forelocks were given to horses by nature as a protection against flies, insects and dust and as a general weapon of defence—

The hon. and gallant Member may be speaking for himself, but I generally relied on the front of the saddle. The second reason is appearance. No horse is really complete without tail, mane and forelocks. To my mind this represents the supreme argument. One has only to imagine an elegant Arab, or beautiful racehorse, deprived of mane, tail and forelocks, to see the stupidity of docking. Then there is the question of humanity. Why should we deprive our most trusted and trusty friend of the one means nature has given for his defence?

What are the arguments against the Bill, because obviously there is always the other side? I may be helping the Under-Secretary out by giving the arguments against; I do not know. The first one is that it requires more time to clean. That is true, but that is an argument of laziness and one which I cannot imagine would appeal to any horse lover. The second is that under the Animals (Anaesthetics) Act, 1919, an anaesthetic must be used during the actual operation. That Act is not always observed. Many of us know of cases on farms in which there is no thought of calling in a veterinary officer. They take a knife or a hatchet, and that is the end of the tail. In the same connection we do not entirely regard the actual operation as a supreme misfortune to the horse. It is what happens afterwards—the discomfort and misery which the horse has to experience when he is deprived of that main defence.

The arguments which I have advanced are only the arguments of laymen, but they are powerfully reinforced by those people who alone are competent to give an expert and professional view. I refer to the veterinary profession. The Veterinary Surgeons Act, 1881, lays down that any veterinary officer would be guilty of unprofessional conduct if he were guilty of inflicting unnecessary suffering upon an animal during an operation. We hold that docking is cruelty both during and after the operation. Therefore, the Act of 1881 would be infringed by permitting docking to continue. In 1938 this very same Bill was introduced in the House of Lords and passed through all its stages there. At that time at all events that other place was composed mainly of farmers, and it is significant that it passed through all its stages. The National Veterinary Medical Association fully and wholeheartedly supported the Bill. We remember the famous International Veterinary Congress held in 1939, when a special resolution was adopted deplor- ing docking and calling for its prohibition in future. As has been said, docking has for long been prohibited right through the various countries in free Europe and also in the North Americas. I trust that we who pride ourselves on being a horse-loving nation will no longer permit this stigma on our national good name.

I have perhaps kept the House rather too long for a Friday afternoon but I think that this act of inhumanity has been going on too long also. So, although I may have kept the House too long, and although possibly two longs do not make a right, I have tried to give the whole background of our Bill right from the time that my hon. Friend introduced it in 1938. It only remains for the Under-Secretary to give what I might describe as the "O.K." to the various arguments that have been used, and to promise full facilities from the Government in the Committee and further stages of the Bill.

3.14 p.m.

I sat here all yesterday afternoon and most of yesterday evening, hoping to take part in a Debate which dealt with the treatment of one section of the human race by another. I did not get that opportunity, but I am glad to be able to be here this afternoon to take part in a Debate about the way in which the human race deals with animals. I am well aware that a great many people take the view,—and in the light of the Debate which took place here yesterday there may be some force in it—that those who seem to take a great interest in the wellbeing of animals might well devote their attention first to the way in which man treats man. I had thought that until man learned how to deal with his fellow creatures decently and reasonably and with humanity, there was small hope of him dealing humanely and decently with creatures of the animal kingdom. I am beginning to think that I have lived too long in this world and that I was wrong, as perhaps are those people who say that until we learn to treat the weaker creatures decently and reasonably there is small hope for decency between man and man.

But in supporting this Bill this afternoon we are probably doing more than we think. It is possible that the un- animous opinion of all sides of the House with regard to the treatment of that glorious and beautiful and life-long friend of man, the horse, may be a foretaste of a better approach with regard to the treatment by man of his fellow man. The horse is one of the most lovely creatures and one of the most magnificent, beautiful and inspiring sights that human eye can hope to see.

I would not say for one minute that even the passing of this Bill with regard to the treatment of the tails of horses will carry us the full way on the road to decent treatment, even of that section of the animal kingdom, but at any rate it is a good start. Taking all things into consideration I think it is in accordance with our great principles as English people, that we should be making our ideas known, even to this limited extent, with regard to the treatment of horses. The prevention of this particular example of real diabolical cruelty—because there is no other just summing up of what this means to the horse—is really only the start of what we have still to do in order to make the relationship between the human race and the horse conform to the rules of ordinary decency. There are many other examples of evil treatment of horses in this country and in the world. But this certainly will be a very good start.

We, as Members of Parliament, are justified at any rate in taking notice of what our constituents have to say to us. There are some people who say that a Member of Parliament, when he is elected to this House, ought to sign a paper that if there are a sufficient number of people in his constituency to object to the actions he takes in the House, he ought immediately to resign. I do not go as far as that. I do not think that we ought to be mere delegates. It is however a matter of some importance to consider the reactions of our constituents in matters of this kind. Now that the Government have allowed hon. Members to bring forward Private Members' Bills, it is good to know that a true advantage is being taken of the opportunity. No one can suggest that hon. Members have used this opportunity in a frivolous manner. Much as I support the Government, I must say that hon. Members have put forward Bills which are certainly of equal importance to some of those proposed by the Government.

This is the first occasion on which I have received communications from my constituents which have been unanimously in favour of a Bill. Last Friday we discussed a Bill dealing with the treatment of animals. I had a great difference of opinion with people in my constituency on that subject. I regard it as a magnificent gesture on their part that on this occasion I have had many letters—almost as many as I had on the famous dried eggs controversy—in favour of this Bill, and in every case they have been in praise of the hon. Members who have proposed the Measure.

It has been suggested that we are behind the times and that if we pass this Bill we shall be just catching up with the public. It has been said that the fashion of docking and nicking of horses is dying out. I beg hon. Members not to be misled by that argument. In many walks of life, particularly with reference to women's fashions, we have seen that those who have a financial and vested interest are capable of reviving the fashions of the past. If they think that a dishonest, or an honest, penny is to be made from reviving old fashions, they bring them forward without hesitation. We have seen our womenfolk decked out with balloon sleeves, bustles and all the rest of the things which probably our fathers and grandfathers thought had gone for ever.

It is only too obvious that if those people who are in the business of horse dealing in future think that there is anything to be made from bringing in a new fashion, they will undoubtedly do so unless it is illegal. We must remember that the horse is rapidly becoming a purely decorative animal—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] It is all very well for hon. Members to shake their heads. I am old enough to remember the time when the motorcar was unknown on the streets of this country and when there was no type of tractor or anything on our farms in the way of mechanised agriculture.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that horse transport is quicker than mechanisation for short distances, say, in London?

Hon. Members should not be misled by this argument. We have not yet completed the mechanisation, even of road transport or of those parts of agricultural operations which can be subjected to mechanisation, and we all know that the skill and ingenuity of mankind is almost limitless. I am quite prepared to agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who interrupted that, possibly, at the present time, certain farming operations, and even certain operations on the roads, such as the use of milk carts, have been improved by mechanisation, but we know of milkmen who have trained their horses to such a degree that one would almost think that the horses could read the numbers on the gates of the houses. The milkman goes along in a sort of sleepy condition, while the horse knows exactly where to stop. But this is only a period of transition. In some parts of the country, we see that milkmen have a new device, with which, by pushing a button, the milk trolley propels itself. So long as he keeps his hand on the handle, the milk trolley will move, and, as soon as he takes it off, it will stop. I beg hon. Members not to rely too much on transient conditions of this sort.

I believe the horse is going to become a purely decorative animal, though it will not be abolished. I live on the borders of Wimbledon Common, of which I am one of the conservators, and we have had to take very stringent measures in order to prevent an increasing number of people who use horses riding over the public footpaths. Horse lovers will be glad to hear that we have laid 27 miles of horse tracks at the expense of the ratepayers and for the pleasure of horse riders.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is in serious danger of talking the tail off the horse?

I do not quite follow that question; I am not very quick on the uptake. No doubt, most hon. Members will appreciate that there is a reason for that remark, but I certainly do not. To return to my point, I think the horse is more and more becoming an apparatus of sport and pleasure, and that makes it all the more important that we should see to it that people who produce these animals, and who have had opportunities for putting forward fashions which may attract certain sections of the riding public, are prevented once and for all. We know that, before the war, the chief source of performing animals for circuses was Ger- many, and that the German people who were engaged in this particular line of business in producing performing animals stopped at no cruelty in order to train animals for their diabolical purpose. It is not without significance that the same race of people was capable of inflicting on a certain section of their own nation—the Jews—cruelties almost equal to those inflicted in the course of the training of performing animals.

Therefore, I hope that the House will pass this Measure today knowing that, once it is passed, there will be no posslightly, as a result of money-making or change in fashion, of ever again returning in this country to the diabolical practice of torturing horses because some misguided people think that a horse looks better out of its natural condition, as some women apparently think they look better when they shave off their eyebrows and pencil them in two inches higher on their foreheads—a most dreadful sight. If we recognise that fact with regard to our womenfolk, let us recognise it with regard to that equally beautiful and delightful example of animal life in this country, the horse.

3.31 p.m.

I desire very sincerely to support this Bill, and I hope that it will get its Second Reading, as I am sure it will. I have been encouraged to support it partly by letters I have received from my constitutency, but to a great extent also by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) who, when it comes to a non-party matter like this, is always commendably persuasive and generally puts up a good case. Most of all was I impressed by his arguments that, after all, it was not for nothing that nature gave horses manes and tails, although I was a little alarmed, I confess, at the corollary of that argument. He and I, after all, are offenders because what applies in the animal world applies to human beings. I console myself with the fact that no fewer that 66⅔ of hon. Members of this party who remain fully hirsute have taken part in this Debate this afternoon. I commend their consistency and this Bill to the House.

3.33 p.m.

I should not have intervened except that I saw more hon. Members opposite getting up to speak, and I wanted to be on record as supporting this Bill. Some 15 years of my life were dedicated to horses, and they have given me a great deal of enjoyment. I must confess that the sight in Summer of horses without tails turned out to grass, has always worried me, and the thought that it will never happen again is very comforting. I think that all hon. Members who have had anything to do with horses will agree that a horse without a tail in Summer is as ill-equipped for life as would be a politician without a tongue. It is peculiarly apposite that I should have followed two hon. Members opposite who are both, so to speak, undocked. I appreciate that their interest in the horse world is shown in a practical manner on their own chins. The noble Baronet mentioned a sunny occasion at Olympia when he went to the Horse Show on 12th July and found that not a single horse was docked. It may be that the Hackney Class that year had long tails.

I for one am guilty because I can remember riding a horse there in the jumping competition which had a nicked tail, but if it gives the hon. and gallant Gentleman any satisfaction I can tell him that I fell off at the triple bar and broke my nose. I am particularly glad to go on record as one who supports this Bill very strongly.

3.35 p.m.

While listening to Debates today, I have felt compelled to reflect upon the difference between today and last week in the House. We have been concerned today, as we were last week, with matters of supreme humane importance. Today the House has been at its best. I have listened very attentively to this Debate, but up to now not one Member has attempted to make any apology for the continuance of the fashion of the nicking and docking of horses. Last week the House was full of apologies for the continuance of inhuman treatment of animals. If there are in the Gallery today visitors who heard the Debate last week, they will be compelled to note the marked contrast. No doubt, there are reasons for this practice, but up to now no one has enlightened me on why it was ever adopted. Is there a defence for the nicking and docking of horses? I have not heard it.

I know little or nothing of horses, although I admire them. As a mere onlooker, I cannot for the life of me imagine that any improvement is effected in the appearance of a horse by the indulgence of that custom. I shall be very pleased if someone will enlighten me on its origin. Nobody has made out a case for its continuance; everyone has appealed for its abolition. I am in favour of its abolition on humanitarian grounds. Futhermore, I prefer to see the horse as it was originally endowed, with its tail and its mane. Today we have been discussing great humanitarian principles. I have been in this House for about 25 years. I can remember Debates on similar principles, and the House has always been at its best when it has been discussing such principles and when party divisions have been broken down. I commend the Bill to the House; I hope it receives its Second Reading and passes through Committee. I shall await with considerable interest the statement by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and I hope that he will give the Bill his blessing.

3.41 p.m.

I shall make no response to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) by offering the House the case in favour of docking and nicking. On the contrary, the Government supports the Second Reading of this Bill for its abolition. I do not think I need waste any words on the subject matter of Clause 1 because the hon. Baronet the Member for Fareham (Sir D. White), who moved the Second Reading, and various other hon. Members who followed him have explained very clearly what docking and nicking is, why it is done—in so far as there are intelligible reasons to be given—and why it should now cease to be done. Therefore, I do not want to make any comments on Clause 1.

There have been hints given in the course of the Debate that certain difficulties may arise over Clause 2, which concerns the importation into the United Kingdom of horses with docked or nicked tails. There are certain difficulties which may arise at a later stage on that Clause. I do not think I should go into them in great detail now because they are more properly matters for Committee, but I think it would be as well if I briefly outlined what sort of difficulties they are in order that the House may be considering them. The first thing I want to say is that the difficulties, of course, do not imply the throwing of any doubt upon the advisability of prohibiting importation as, so to speak, a reinforcement of Clause 1, which creates the substantive offence. If docking and nicking is to be illegal in this country, obviously from the point of view of enforcement it is right that, if we can, we should also arrange to prohibit importation, otherwise enforcement in this country will be made a good deal more difficult.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) said he hoped the Government would not do anything to weaken the force of Clause 2. The point is that we do not want to weaken its force, but it is no use putting a strong Clause in the Bill if we are not certain that the Clause can be enforced. What we must be sure of is that what we put in the Bill is something we can subsequently implement. There are difficulties about implementing a prohibition on importation and so far—I shall be quite frank with the House—we have not seen our way over all those difficulties. I do not say that we shall not succeed in doing so, but after a certain amount of study—and I think there was some study of the subject at the time of the earlier Bill in 1938—no entirely satisfactory solution has yet been found.

There are two kinds of difficulty. May I take the lesser one first? There is the comparatively small number of horses we import from the Continent. I understand that last year, out of a total importation of about 18,000, only 1,000 came from the Continent—that is in round figures—and the rest came from Eire. Therefore, the question of importation from the Continent is quantitatively a small matter. Nevertheless, if there is to be a prohibition on the import of docked and nicked horses, we must have some machinery for checking up upon it. The Bill tries to incorpor- ate this particular control in the existing control under the Customs Consolidation Act. Customs officers, however, are not qualified veterinary surgeons nor have they any veterinary knowledge, and it is not part of their functions to be able to distinguish, or indeed to examine, horses for this purpose. It will, there fore, be necessary—

That may well be true, but that is not necessarily true of nicking. That, however, is the smaller problem. I do not think that it is any part of the functions of the customs officers to examine each individual beast in detail. The control which exists for health purposes is done in a different way. It is done by arranging that the animals should be accompanied by a certificate, and only when an animal is not accompanied by a certificate do the customs officers have to take any action. If it is not accompanied by a certificate, the animal, nevertheless, goes on to its destination. The appropriate Department, which in this case is the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, is notified, and arrangements for inspection and subsequent inquiry have to be made. That entails putting additional duties on the existing veterinary staff, who are very scarce at the present time. Therefore, some adjustment would have to be made in the provisions of this Bill to meet even that problem, which as I say, is the lesser of the difficulties which confront us.

I am sure that my hon. Friend has read Clause 2 (3), which states:

"This Section shall come into operation on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and fifty-five."
I should have thought that gave ample time in which to train our customs officers to know the difference between nicked and docked horses.

I do not think that at any time, either now or in 1955, would it form an appropriate part of the duties put on customs officers to be trained in this particular type of work.

The other difficulty arises from the fact, which I have already given to the House, that the vast majority of all imported horses come from Eire. So far as the substantive offence is concerned—the prohibition of docking and nicking in Clause 1—that is not a matter on which it would be appropriate for us to legislate for Northern Ireland. That is a thing on which their Parliament would legislate, and consequently it would not be right for us to create the offence of docking and nicking within Northern Ireland. That means that unless there were some proposal put up across the water for comparable legislation, it would be perfectly legal to perform this operation in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for South Belfast knows, once a horse is in Northern Ireland it is in the United Kingdom, and therefore it is difficult to see how we could apply the provisions of Clause 2, which relates to the customs system, to a horse which is already within the United Kingdom.

Would the hon. Gentleman say why the provisions of this Bill should not be applied to Northern Ireland?

I do not know with what authority the hon. Gentleman speaks, but I should have thought that this was the sort of matter in which it would be most inappropriate, if not strictly out of our power under the statute, to attempt to legislate for Northern Ireland. As I say, this is not necessarily an insuperable difficulty, but it is one which so far as the Government are concerned has not yet been satisfactorily faced and met. I think this is one of the things that the hon. Gentleman who promoted the Bill would wish to consider in the meantime. It would be a rather curious situation if it were possible to import horses over the border from Eire to Northern Ireland undocked, to dock them there and so avoid the customs control, and to bring them into the United Kingdom without having infringed any part of the Bill. These are things which we shall have to consider and work out.

I wish to emphasise that our only concern in this matter is to ensure that whatever we put into the Bill with regard to restrictions or complete prohibition of importation is something which we can subsequently make effective. Regardless of the merits of the particular subject of docking and nicking, I am sure that everybody would agree that it is not right that this House should pass and put upon the Statute Book a Measure which we have not good reason to believe can be made effective. The matter I have indicated will be for further consideration at a later stage. I would repeat that the Government supports the Second Reading of the Bill, and they are in harmony with Members on all sides of the House.

3.50 p.m.

I have the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir D. White), who promoted this Bill, to say that we are very grateful to the Home Office for the indication they have given as to where the difficulties may arise. I would only point out that when I introduced a Bill similar to this in 1939 none of these difficulties had arisen, because the position of Eire was different from what it is now. It is quite clear that it would be a ridiculous situation if animals could be taken across the Irish border and dealt with in Northern Ireland. They would then, strictly speaking, be within the United Kingdom. There are hon. Gentlemen in this House intimately acquainted with Northern Ireland, and there are those here who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. If this is a reserved service, hon. Members from Northern Ireland can take note of what is being said here and it may be they will follow the example of this House of Commons. Far be it from us to suggest anything to Ulster, because my experience has been that the initiative must come from Ulster if there is to be a successful result. None of the promoters of this Bill would wish to say a single word, which would make it difficult for hon. Members to move a Bill along similar lines in Northern Ireland.

There is one other matter which I should like to mention. There is no difference of opinion on the merits of this Bill. It is, however, a question of what is the best machinery for carrying it out. Nobody wants to pass legislation which cannot be enforced. Mention has been made of the Customs Consolidation Acts. We all recognise what a customs officer does with stuff that is illegal. If it is tobacco, it is put in the King's pipe and smoked, and if it is wine, it is poured out. An animal cannot be treated like that. I can foresee the customs having to hold a horse for some time and then the Ministry of Food would have to be called in to feed it. There are all sorts of difficulties, and I understand that the Minister of Agriculture is unable to find the necessary veterinary surgeons at the present time.

The promoters of the Bill in Committee would wish to make all these points which have been indicated by the Home Office. I do not think they are insuperable. In 1939 a scheme was worked out for licences, and it was only necessary for the legislation to be passed by this House. With regard to anthrax, a veterinary surgeon's certificate is necessary when a horse is imported, and on it could be included a phrase to say that the horse is not nicked or docked. I can say on behalf of those who back the Bill, including my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham, that we are grateful for the attitude of the Home Office, and we trust that the Government will give every aid they can to see that the Bill is passed through its remaining stages.

3.55 p.m.

I too should like to say how glad I am that this Bill has been introduced. I do not think anyone has produced an argument in favour of cutting off horses' tails, which is utterly unnecessary, is a painful operation and causes very much more pain later on because the animal cannot defend itself from flies. It is not there where the real argument has come on this Bill. The argument has been as to importations. The Under-Secretary has referred to the importation of Continental horses, but that is not a problem because docking does not take place on the Continent. The only horses which would come in docked from the Continent would be re-importations of docked horses that originally came from England or Ireland. And so that problem does not really arise.

Then comes the question of the Eire horses. I rather agree with the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) that the necessary training for an official to be able to recognise a horse with its tail off from the horse with its tail on is not very extensive. I cannot find that that is a very real objection. The difficulties arising between Northern Ireland and Eire are a great deal more complicated. I should have thought that if Clause 2 were altered to prohibit importations into "England and Scotland" instead of the "United Kingdom," that difficulty would have been got over, because if horses came across the water and were docked, it would then be a question of taking action, and even if the Customs officials felt that the onus was too great upon them, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has a considerable staff, could bring the appropriate prosecutions.

I should not have thought it was necessary even to hold up the horse, because if a prosecution were brought it would be a sufficiently effective remedy even if the horse got in. In other words, people would not do it if there were a substantial fine. That is a way in which the difficulty could be overcome. I hope that a Second Reading will be given to this Bill, that the necessary difficulties when raised in Committee will be overcome, and that the Hairdressers' Bill and Bills of that sort will not last too long so that the Government will be able to give the necessary time to facilitate it through the Committee stage.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.