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Baiting Of Animals Bill

Volume 462: debated on Friday 4 March 1949

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.

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

The Bill is a small one, but it is none the worse for that. It is one of the many Private Members' Bills dealing with cruelty to animals. There has been some public comment upon the fact that Private Members' Bills have dealt with this subject, but that is not surprising. In fact, it is significant that, after a great war in which there was such cruelty, men's minds are eager to limit and to lessen as far as they can the cruelty in its various forms, however little it may be, which seems to be so current in modern life. For that reason it is not without significance that the backers of the Bill are all men who fought in either the war of 1914 or its successor.

A similar Bill was brought before the House in June, 1938, by the then hon. Member for Gillingham, Sir Robert Gower. Indeed it obtained a Second Reading, but it was subsequently withdrawn for a reason which has been remedied in the present Measure. It was felt then that possibly some harm might be done to innocent persons. This Bill has been amended to obviate that remote possibility.

This Bill deals with animals generally but is directed specifically to cocks and cock-fighting. There is a history about cocks: the cock of Æsculapius, the cock that crowed three times and the cock which was once the symbol of the "Daily Herald," the chanticleer of which crows less loudly now than it did at one time. Cock-fighting is a sport which survives from more cruel and lustier days, to which, I notice, a forgotten ditty makes some reference:
  • "To keep game cocks
  • To hunt the fox,
  • To drink the punch and whisky,
  • We fear no locks,
  • We'll train the cocks,
  • And care not if it's risky."
The object of the Bill is to make it risky to train the cocks.

Cock-fighting is a cruel sport and has been illegal since 1835, but, none the less, like many other irregularities, it continues and does so under conditions of great secrecy. These matchings of cocks are called, I understand, "mains," and are held in remote parts of the country, usually in public places but sometimes actually in private premises. Prosecution, it has been found, has been extremely difficult, and over a period of five or six years comparatively few prosecutions have been successfully established. It is notable that—and hon. Members may like to know what happens in their constituencies—in Bolton in 1927 three defendants were fined; in 1929 in Derby the number was five; in 1930 in Preston —I would not have thought it—two defendants were fined for taking part in cock-fighting; in 1930, in Sheffield, one; in Portsmouth, in 1933, three; and in 1938, in Hackthorpe, Cumberland, 17 persons were fined for taking part in this illegal sport. There is no doubt, however, that many other "mains" have taken place.

It is very difficult for the police to check, or even to investigate, this irregularity. Cocks are put into motor cars, cattle floats or other confined vehicles. In one case, I understand, a Co-operative van was used for this malign purpose. These birds are taken all over the country in apparently innocent-looking vehicles of this kind. If the police attempt to stop these vehicles and examine them, it is usually discovered that the birds are on their way to some show. This Bill seeks to attack the root of the evil. Subsection (1) of Clause l seeks to make it illegal to possess
"any animal trained or prepared for use in fighting or baiting;"—
and, this is important,
"or any instrument or appliance designed or adapted for use in connection with the fighting or baiting of any animal."
The word "animal" is defined in the 1911 Protection of Animals Act to include,
"a cock, hen, chicken or capon."
Forbidding "the possession" makes enforcement of the law possible and makes these contests much more difficult. If the Bill secures the approval of the House, it would end cock-fighting, as I understand it, once and for all. It seems appropriate, following the discussion on Defence, that this Measure should be introduced today as it is really a disarmament Measure. The cock will no longer be a fighting creature armed for man's profit or entertainment.

Subsection (2) of Clause 1 gives a right of appeal so that no action can be taken until the result of the appeal is known. Subsection (3) gives protection to legitimate breeders. This was the rock on which the previous Bill was wrecked. The protection is given to the legitimate game-cock breeder. The comb or wattle might be removed from the bird because of injury or disease and this provision makes it impossible to conduct prosecutions if the removal is innocent. I wish to say a few words of explanation. "Trimmed and prepared" means that fighting cocks are arranged for their task. Fighting cocks are "dubbed," the comb or wattle is trimmed and the tail and neck feathers are cut, so that nothing protrudes which the opposing cock could grip. Cock-fighters call this trimming and preparing "cutting-out."

So much for the birds. The instruments concerned are called "cock-fighting spurs." Some have them made of silver, but these spurs which I hold in my hand are made of steel. The natural spurs of the birds are cut off and the sharp metal spurs are strapped with thongs over the stumps, or just below the stumps. These are to artificially arm the birds, and you will see, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, from the spurs I have passed round, that they could cause great havoc.

In 1938 the last case of cock-fighting of which I have any record was reported. There was a main between a Cumberland cock and a Lancashire cock. The Lancashire cock was blinded very early in the main by the spurs of its opponent. Both eyes were destroyed. But blinded and bleeding, it had to fight on as the spectators demanded a fight to the death. That was reported in the "News Chronicle," a Liberal newspaper, on 14th June, 1938. I think I have said sufficient to commend the Bill to the House. I have said it is a small Bill, but it deals with a matter which can well be remedied without inconvenience or injustice to anyone. The Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals want this Bill. The Dumb Friends League want this Bill. The police have asked for it and, indeed, require it and I think informed public opinion demands it. I hope I have said something this morning further to inform public opinion, and I commend the Bill to the House.

11.4 a.m.

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. As my hon. Friend has said, it is a coincidence, and only a coincidence, that all the backers of this Bill are those who have served on active service in either one, or both, of the last two wars. Anyone who has been knocked about in those wars, as many of us have been, will realise that it is not much fun to be unnecessarily hurt by sharp implements, even as small as the silver spurs which are being passed round. My hon. Friend did refer to a case in which two cocks fought and the Lancashire cock was blinded in both eyes, but was forced to fight again even after it had been blinded. That kind of instance could be quoted almost times without number to show that this sport is a cruel sport.

I support this Bill, also, because I believe it will facilitate the enforcement of an existing law. This Bill is essentially aimed at helping to enforce a law which has been in operation for a very long time. There are loopholes by which the existing law can be evaded and this Bill seeks to stop up those loopholes. It is no use making laws if we cannot enforce them. I am reminded of a case in days gone by when I was a commanding officer and my adjutant had a lot of trouble with small boys who were breaking windows in the married quarters. He put in regimental orders an order which, when I read it, I realised would be difficult to enforce. He said that in future the parents of offenders would be severely dealt with. One cannot severely deal with a father or mother of a boy because he throws a stone. We want to deal severely with people who possess fighting cocks which are trimmed or "dubbed" for a main.

The old spelling. I wish to support my hon. Friend who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill.

11.18 a.m.

I feel that this Bill does not go quite far enough. In my opinion making spurs, or the possession of spurs, illegal is not going to stop cock-fighting. All that will happen is that anyone who has a pair of spurs as a souvenir or a relic in a glass case, will get into trouble, while the man who is prepared to break the law by taking his birds to a cock fight is not going to "chuck it" because it is illegal to have a pair of spurs. He will keep them hidden.

In my opinion the only way to stop cock-fighting is by making the penalties far more severe. We could make it illegal to breed game fowl altogether, which may be too drastic, but would be effective, or we could have severe penalties like those under the red petrol order. The other and more practicable alternative is for the R.S.P.C.A. to offer really substantial rewards for anyone who would give information of a main, or of people who go in for cock-fighting in order that their identities may be known. Perhaps the best course would be to register breeders of game fowl. That might be efficient. If people were licensed to breed game fowl we should be able to trace where their birds went. That would be some check. I do not think that just to make it illegal to possess a pair of silver spurs can possibly stop cock-fighting. The idea of spurs is that they are more efficient than the actual spurs of the bird. They also have the advantage that if a bird is wounded with the natural spurs the wound festers. If it is wounded with silver or steel spurs the wound is clean and will heal up.

Dubbing the comb or wattle is done because, first of Pall, when the bird fights it might get the blood in its eyes; and secondly, it is a part that will fester easily. Dubbing is no more necessary for a show bird than is the cropping of the ears of a Great Dane. In the old days the Great Dane could be shown in this country, as in Germany, with cropped ears. That is now illegal and they are bred with better ears. I do not see why breeders of game fowl should not similarly do away with dubbing. It is merely a matter of fashion.

Is the dubbing to which my hon. Friend is referring done for show purposes, because the Bill only seeks to make it illegal to dub them for fighting purposes?

It strikes me that that is a loophole. How is it to be proved that a bird is not dubbed for show purposes only? It is a good loophole if one is able to say, "I am going to show my bird sometime," and dub him. Then later one can say that he did not prove to be good enough to show and that one had had to put him in the pot. That is a loophole which one could stop.

It is a curious fact that in many old Welsh leases it is provided that the tenant must walk a fighting-cock. Game-cocks cannot help fighting; they love it and they have to be kept separate from each other. I do not believe the statement that has been made about the breeder of the ordinary game fowl. I think that a great many of them sell their young cocks for fighting. For that reason, I would like to support the Bill and also to suggest that it might be made much stronger.

11.23 a.m.

The Government look upon this Bill with a kindly eye. As was said by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), the present Bill incorporates amendments which are the result of discussions on previous Bills, and which are designed to meet certain relatively minor objections which were raised at the time. I do not think that there is any dispute in any quarter of the House about the fact that this practice of cock-fighting and baiting is undesirable and has for a long time been illegal. I refer specifically to cock-fighting, because as the hon. Member said, that is in practice the offence with which we are trying to deal, though in terms the Bill covers other forms of animal baiting.

The only question before us is whether we should do more to assist the police and other interested persons in enforcing what is the existing law. The police attempt to enforce this particular law as they enforce all other branches of the criminal law. We have no evidence that their enforcement of this particular law is any less adequate than their enforcement of the criminal law generally. From time to time for many years there have been reports that these activities go on in secret. No doubt that is true, but we have no evidence that they are widespread. Nevertheless, if they go on at all it seems reasonable that we should facilitate the suppression of those activities in any way we can. It may well be that this Measure will give some assistance in that respect. The Government are therefore glad to see the Bill brought forward.

There will, I think, be substantially no danger to collectors of spurs and other instruments. That seems to be adequately provided for in Clause 1. Not many instances of that type of collecting have come to my notice but it may be widespread, although I doubt whether it is. In any event, I do not think that genuine collectors need feel any anxiety about this Bill.

The hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) suggested that the Bill did not go far enough and that something much more drastic was required I do not think that I need go into that aspect, but I would submit to the House the consideration that if it were proposed to institute much more drastic penalties it would be necessary to go into the actual need for a highly repressive addition to the law in a good deal more detail. If we were to make the penalties really severe we should have to consider in a good deal more detail than we have done this morning the actual evidence of the prevalence of this offence. I rather doubt whether the House would reach the conclusion that it was justified in passing any Measure which was much more drastic than the one which is at present before the House.

I do not think I need say anything further about the Bill at this stage. We may have discussions during the Committee stage. There is one point upon which I might give the House the information which I have. I refer to what is called dubbing, where it is rightly and legitimately used for show purposes. I speak subject to correction, but I understand the term "dubbing" to refer merely to the removal of the combs and wattles, which might be done for reasons of health, and that a bird which is merely dubbed is not fully prepared for fighting. There are other things which are not necessary for health which have to be done before a bird can be described as prepared for fighting. I understand that one has to trim the wings at a slope, cut down the tail to one-third of its length, shorten the hackles and feathers, and cut the comb. If all these things are done it is possible to distinguish a bird so prepared from one which has merely been treated for reasons of health. That is a matter which could be more fully discussed in Committee. There is nothing further which I need say in indicating the attitude of the Government to this Bill.

Is there any other breed of fowl in regard to which it is necessary, for reasons of health, to cut its comb?

I cannot answer that question without notice. It is a matter which could be looked into in Committee. I thought that as there appeared to be some dispute as to the definition of dubbing I might say what my information is on the subject.

11.29 a.m.

I am sure that every Member in the House will welcome this Bill and give it his support on Second Reading. I am also sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), who introduced the Bill, even though he did so somewhat flippantly. I can never quite understand why a Measure to reduce cruelty should be regarded flippantly, although I am sure that in the case of the hon. Member it hides a warm humanitarianism and is typical of the Scotsman's desire to conceal his emotions on these matters.

At the same time, I am bound to say that I do not see why this House should give the Bill a Second Reading in view of the attitude of hon. Members opposite last week towards a Bill which was intended to reduce cruelty. Here we are concerned with something which provides almost equal fights. There are two fighting cocks, roughly with the same armament, and the victory depends upon the strength, courage and tenacity of the animals involved. Last week we discussed a form of cruelty involving one small animal, or perhaps in the case of the red deer, a large one, being chased by a pack of hounds with human accompaniment. That did not appear to hon. Members opposite to represent cruelty, and it seems to me that it is very inconsistent with their attitude last week to want us to support a Bill—

It is not quite fair for the hon. Member to say that we are not being consistent in our attitude to cruelty. What I felt was that there was no way of doing what we seek to do, and what we hope is the policy of the Government—to maintain the deer—which is less cruel than stag hunting. That is the point, and the Government supported us.

I accept the explanation of the hon. and gallant Member. What I had in mind was some phrases used in the speeches of other hon. Members and not his particular contribution. I merely wished to raise the point because I regarded it as an inconsistency. If we are to give this Bill a Second Reading there is no reason why we should not have done so with the Bill which was before the House last week. Although I give this Bill my wholehearted support, I felt it necessary to point out what I consider a serious inconsistency in the attitude of hon. Members opposite.

Question put, and agreed to.

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