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Pet Animals Bill

Volume 462: debated on Friday 18 March 1949

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.8 a.m.

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

The object of this Bill is to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals while they are in the premises of pet shops, and also to prohibit the casual sale of pet animals in the streets. It must not, however, go out from this House that I consider, or that any hon. Member considers, that all pet shops are badly run. That is far from the case. There are very many pet shops throughout the Kingdom which are well run, and in which all the necessities of hygiene, health and the comfort of the animals are well looked after. But there are, unfortunately, some pet shops—and I should not go so far as to say that they are not in the majority—in which the conditions are far from ideal. Indeed, there are a few in which conditions are so far from ideal that actual cruelty does engender, or at any rate is likely to be engendered, towards the animals kept therein.

In the worst types of pet shops the proprietors are, I think, more concerned with making profit in the minimum of time and with a quick turnover than with either the comfort and health of the animals prior to sale or whether or not the animals on sale may die almost as soon as they are sold.

The Bill therefore sets out to regulate the sale of pet animals in various ways which I will shortly describe. One of the most important parts of the Bill provides for the lawful inspection of premises and of the animals kept on the premises. Under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, very few cases where complaint has been made have resulted in successful prosecutions. That is mainly due, I submit, to the fact that the only part of the premises which can be looked at is the front, where the animals are actually on sale. No right of entry exists under that Act for going into the back of the premises, underground into the cellars or upstairs into the rooms or attics. It is in this direction that we seek by the Bill to give the right of entry to certain people, when ordered or authorised to do so by the local authority.

In Clause 1 the question of licensing is dealt with. It proposes that pet shops shall be licensed by local authorities, upon payment of fees. The fee will, I expect, be prescribed by the Home Office. The Clause makes it possible for the local authority to refuse to give such a licence if, in their opinion, the premises are totally unsuitable. It also gives the local authority power to withdraw a licence on the conviction of the tenant or occupier of the premises for cruelty, or for some other reason of that sort.

Clause 2 provides that certain rules which are contained in the Schedule should be observed. In addition, it is intended to give the purchaser of a pet animal some slight degree of guarantee that the animal is in a healthy and fit state when sold and will not die within three days. The most important part of Clause 2 is probably subsection (3), which is not worded as clearly as it might be. It says that no person
"shall carry on the business of trading in pet animals, except upon premises."
That means that the Clause must be read in conjunction with Clause 5, to define the premises clearly. We seek by the subsection to prohibit the sale of pet animals in any other place than a pet shop itself or a store in a market. The subsection seeks to prohibit the casual sale of animals in the street. Most of the complaints that come forward are due to unweaned puppies being sold in the streets and to thefts of animals which are subsequently sold, either in a market or in a street. If, by passing the Bill, we could do something to prohibit the pernicious practice of the thieving of dogs and taking them to the nearest market and selling them, we should have achieved part of the object of the Bill, in addition to preventing unnecessary cruelty.

Clause 3 gives the right to the local authority to order an inspection of premises which are being used as a pet shop, and, of course, of the animals therein. When we come to Clause 5 I shall say a word about the definition of "pet shop." Perhaps I should mention the sort of conditions which can exist, and which do in fact exist today. No veterinary or other inspection is allowed to be ordered by a local authority today, when a complaint is made. Animals such as dogs and cats can be and are, according to information which I have been given, kept underground over the weekend with little water and with little or no light. I have seen a report which emanated from Cheshire that in one instance, dogs were kept over the weekend when the shop was locked. The dogs were underground and had their muzzles bound with tape, in order to stop them from barking and annoying the neighbours. I emphasise that that kind of condition does not exist in the majority of cases, and that such cases are very much in the minority, but we must take steps to see that they cannot exist any longer. There have been many cases of overcrowding, which is the subject of a great many complaints, and, of course, there are complaints about lack of sanitation.

Those are all conditions which happen behind the scenes, and not so much in the shop windows or the public part of the shop. Even in the public part of the shop conditions are not always ideal, as one knows from seeing the shops. Animals are kept for long hours in burning hot sunshine. One sees there animals like puppies which would like to go into the shade, if they had power to do so. Other animals are kept with artificial light, such as very strong electric light, shining over their heads and into their eyes. That is particularly bad for fish in glass bowls. I need not go into details because I have no doubt that other hon. Members who are supporting the Bill will deal with them later. There have been many detailed cases. I can recollect two which were reported in the "Daily Telegraph" where goldfish bowls caused a fire on the premises by reason of the sun's rays. One can imagine what happened to the goldfish inside and how uncomfortable they were just prior to the fire.

There is also the matter of payment for veterinary inspection. The Clause empowers local authorities to authorise veterinary surgeons to carry out inspections. No veterinary surgeon would expect to do that free of charge. This point has been raised by two councils, one of which was the Surrey County Council, and I have the authority of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to say that at my request they have circulated a letter to local authorities saying that in the event of payment to a veterinary surgeon being necessary in England and Wales the Society are prepared to defray the expenses. That explains why there is no Financial Resolution in connection with the Bill. I was advised by counsel that such provision would not be necessary.

Clause 4 provides for a penalty not exceeding £50 on summary conviction. Many may think that sum too high, and I shall be prepared to consider that if the Bill reaches the Committee stage. We do not want to drive people out of business with that fine; we want to see that businesses are better run and conducted on humane lines. The Clause also lays down minor penalties and gives the trader a right of appeal.

Clause 5 defines "pet animal" and other expressions. This definition has caused a good deal of correspondence and I took counsel's opinion on it. He said:
"I have felt some doubt as to whether some definition of the expression 'pet animal' is necessary or desirable. I think that the courts would, at any rate in all ordinary cases, be able to determine what a pet animal is without the assistance of a statutory definition."
However, there is the definition, and if it is not in accordance with what the majority of hon. Members consider to be right, it can be amended later. The "pet animal" and "pet shop" definitions are not intended to apply to those who buy and sell horses or conduct riding schools. I understand that they are already subject to inspection. Neither do the definitions nor the Bill seek to cover those engaged in aviculture and those who breed birds such as budgerigars and parakeets for a hobby and sell off surplus stock as and when they have to do so. Many hon. Members have had this point brought to their notice by constituents who are interested in cage-birds and their breeding. I want to make it quite clear that the Bill does not seek to cover private individuals engaged in that hobby; it seeks to ensure that those who trade in pet animals in pet shops—I emphasise the word "trade"—do so under suitable, hygienic and humane conditions.

I should also mention that the Bill does not seek to cover private individuals who breed dogs in kennels, which are not pet shops. They are not covered any more than I would say is the man who breeds lions and who wrote me a most infuriated letter about the Bill. He said that he held no brief for the Bill because it would deprive him of his livelihood and that he could not take up any other occupation at his time of life. He was breeding lions and tigers practically daily, I understand. The definition of "pet shop" has caused much controversy, and many suggested definitions have been sent to me, particularly from people engaged in the trade. I dare say that a simpler definition could be found. On the other hand, it is extremely difficult not to make the definition too wide. It may be that I have already made it too wide and that it should be contracted and made more concise, but that is a Committee point.

The Schedule sets out certain regulations which are to be observed. The first one may be considered too drastic. It states that pet shops shall not be left unattended. The intention is that it should be impossible to carry on business in look-up premises which may be unattended the whole night or throughout the week-end. The other parts of the Schedule are mostly small points.

There may be some doubt in the mind of the Under-Secretary whether the additional powers sought in the Bill are necessary or not and whether a new set of powers, offences and penalties should be established. May I say to him that I have had literally hundreds of letters from all over this country giving the keenest support to the principles of this Bill. I have had letters not only from those who are what one might call "old women," but from all types of men, both inside and outside the trade. I have had much help from several traders in pet animals in connection with this Bill, and I would like to quote a paragraph from the letter of a man in the trade who has a fairly large business in pet animals. He says:
"Such control should have been established long ago, and I wonder just how many of the hon. Members are appreciative of the true position regarding many of these pet shops and are prepared to give support to the Bill. I state without fear of contradiction that most pet shops are nothing more than torture chambers for the livestock contained therein with overcrowding, filthy conditions, incorrect feeding—especially of mongrel puppies…"
Another trader says:
"As sincere animal lovers, as well as being business people, we welcome this Bill if it will do anything to control the sale of young puppies, kittens, day-old chicks, etc."
I hope the House and the Parliamentary Secretary will see that there is a call for more drastic legislation than exists at present, particularly with a view to the right of inspection so that it will ensure that premises are more hygienically managed than at present. I conclude by saying that no owner of a pet shop need have the slightest fear of interference with his legitimate business by reason of the passing of this Bill, provided that he treats the helpless animals under his care with ordinary humanity and kindness. After all, that is a national characteristic of which our countrymen and women have for years been famous throughout the world, and I know that all hon. Members are anxious that we should preserve it in the future.

11.33 a.m.

I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) on his good fortune in having the opportunity to move the Second Reading of this Bill. Had I been luckier I should have liked the opportunity he has so ably taken advantage of this morning. However, it was a good thing that it was the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Second Reading because I could not hope to have been as patient in the negotiations which led to the framing of this Bill as he has been, and I could not hope to achieve the results that he has achieved by the ability and sincerity with which he has moved its Second Reading.

This is a simple but not a sloppy Bill. It does not try to put the world right in half a dozen Clauses and a couple of Schedules. What it does is to take a simple problem, examine it, and deal with it by means of two quite simple principles. The first is that those who engage in the sale of animals for trade shall be registered; the second is that the premises from which they can carry on that trade shall be open to inspection. Those two principles, if accepted; give the opportunity to hon. Gentlemen who may be critical of some of the provisions in the Bill to have their points of view met on the Committee stage. Late last evening I was approached by the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. UngoedThomas) who, unfortunately, cannot be in his place today. He was full of doubt about some of the provisions and, although I have not had an opportunity to talk to the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple, I am sure I was voicing his view in saying that any reasonable point of view would be met on the Committee stage.

It is not my intention to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in a detailed examination of the Bill. I want to put forward the general reasons why I support it. There is a widespread practice of selling day-old chicks often in paper bags and sometimes straight into the hands of quite young children. The sale of unweaned puppies and of kittens is also widespread.

Like the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I have had access to information gathered by societies who are interested in this, and one of the things I have noticed is that these practices are rife in the poorer quarters of our great cities. When the Under-Secretary replies, I ask him to bear this in mind: may there not be a correlation between this practice and the practice of juvenile delinquency in those areas? I know, from the experience I have acquired as the father of three daughters, that the possession of a pet is most desirable in the character-forming of young children. One does not need much imagination to visualise the impression on a child's mind, having parted with his few coppers for a chick, only to find before he reaches home that the chick is either dead or in a dying condition.

I am quite sure that if this Bill is given a Second Reading it will not discourage the practice of keeping pets. On the contrary, provided the pet shops are well conducted and those who purchase pets from them are willing to gain the simple knowledge required to keep those pets, it will lead to a great extension of the practice, with the most desirable results. One pas only to go to the Zoo in the Summer to see the great popularity of Pets' Corner. There is no better way of teaching young children responsibility and regard for others than to give them a pet. I know from observations in my own constituency of the great difficulty through bad housing of working-class children being given that opportunity.

That leads me to this point: too often children are encouraged by unscrupulous persons to part with small sums for puppies or for chicks, and the parents do not want those animals. It means that they are left either to fend for themselves or they become neglected. The result is the same—a painful death. While I do not want to detain the House too long, I want to stress the point that the control of pet shops is concerned not only with the kindliness and humane treatment of animals, but also with proper facilities to purchase pets which if properly treated play an important part in the moulding of the characters of young children. If the Under-Secretary and his opposite number in the Ministry of Education would tackle the problem of delinquency from that angle, and encourage local education authorities to organise pet quarters and encourage the keeping of pets, I am sure it would be a most useful means of removing juvenile delinquency.

I do not propose to weary the House by giving a long recital of the great amount of abuse which has been brought to our notice. The evidence is there, and I am sure that all hon. Gentlemen will recognise from their own knowledge that what has been said is correct. The R.S.P.C.A. have accumulated considerable evidence to show that the practices I have described are widespread. It is not asserted—and the hon. and gallant Gentleman stated it was not our belief—that the majority of pet shops are improperly conducted, but the fact remains that abuses in this field do exist and ought to be stopped as soon as possible.

If hon. Gentlemen will support us by giving the Bill a Second Reading today I can assure them that any reasonable Amendment will find ready acceptance during the Committee stage. I give the Bill my wholehearted support.

11.42 a.m.

First of all I should declare my interest. For several years I have been, and still am, a member of the Kennel Club Committee, which is the ruling body of the dog world so far as the registration of pedigree dogs and dogs for exhibition is concerned. Also, for a number of years I have been a breeder of pedigree dogs.

The Kennel Club is anxious to safeguard the interests of breeders and exhibitors of pedigree dogs and makes the suggestion that in Clause 5, line 22, after "rearing," there should be inserted the words "breeding and showing." On the other hand, however, a Member of Parliament should take as broad a view as possible, and I feel that in this matter we have to look after the interests of the three P's: the public, the pets and the pet shop proprietors.

I should like to suggest one' or two things which might improve the Bill. Pet shop proprietors are to be licensed. I am not altogether clear, but I think that anyone who is convicted of cruelty to animals or has convictions recorded against him can be disqualified. I hope, at any rate, that this is so. There may, however, be cases where a magistrate is not quite clear of the position, or where the cruelty has not been intentional, but where a conviction has been recorded, and where discretion must be used.

I should like to think that regard will be paid to the honesty of the person involved. The Kennel Club, as the ruling body, can warn off or bar people for life from breeding or showing dogs under Kennel Club rules; it also bars their dogs and their progeny from being registered or shown. This means that a dog which is sold from a dog shop whose proprietor is disqualified can never be shown, exhibited or bred as a pedigree dog, unless, of course, the man sold it merely as an agent. Before a licence is granted to a pet shop proprietor, an inquiry might well be made by the local authority to the Kennel Club to ascertain whether or not the person concerned is on the black list. The normal cause for disqualification is the continual selling of dogs with faked or false pedigrees. A different matter altogether is the man who loses his temper with judges at a show; this involves merely a minor disqualification. But the man who consistently sells dogs with false pedigrees, and who has been found out and warned off for life, is not a desirable person to have charge of a pet shop. It would be a good thing if this practice could be made a cause for disqualification from licence.

Then there is the question of pet shops being locked up at night. It is quite easy for a proprietor to take away dogs or puppies for the night, but it is not easy for him to take away tropical birds or fish. Insistence upon the presence always of somebody upon the premises would, perhaps, lead to the closing down of a certain number of otherwise well-conducted pet shops in the West End of London, to which no residential accommodation is connected for either the proprietor or his assistant at night. I imagine that most of the West End pet shops, in fact, possess no sleeping accommodation whatever. No doubt this is a matter which will be gone into further.

On the question of hygiene, I think that the average pet shop at present is a hotbed of infection. Sooner or later somebody is bound to send in a puppy which has distemper on it, and when that happens the disease will go through the whole shop. No breeder of pedigree dogs would ever dare to buy a puppy, however good it may be, from a pet shop unless he knew that first it had been inoculated or immunised. I suggest that some sort of star might be given to pet shops which have all their puppies immunised—not inoculated, but temporarily immunised—by a vet. on their arrival. The cost is not great, and a purchaser would gladly pay the extra price because he would know that he had a reasonable chance of getting a healthy puppy, instead of its being an even money gamble whether or not the puppy lives.

I approve entirely of inspection, but if a police officer were to make a round of the pet shops in London, and in doing so went first into some of the bad shops and then into a good one, he would probably carry disease with him. There should be some kind of guarantee that such a person should be reasonably disinfected and should wash his hands before examining any dogs or puppies in another shop.

It must not be thought that constables will wander around inspecting pet shops. They will do so only when a cause of complaint has been lodged with the local authority and the local authority issues them with the necessary warrant to inspect a particular shop.

I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

I should like to see the R.S.P.C.A. or Our Dumb Friends' League providing, free if necessary, all pet shops with a feeding chart for puppies, which could be given free with every puppy which is sold. This would ensure that the novice owner could make some attempt at feeding the animal in the proper way. Weaning is very much more difficult nowadays, because the dried milk foods, such as "Lactol" and "Ambrol," which were used before the war, are now impossible to obtain. I suggest that a puppy should not be sold until at least a week after it has been weaned. If a puppy gets ill, or dies, within three days of its sale, it is to be assumed that it was diseased when sold. That is reasonable, but we must safeguard the pet shop proprietor, who should be notified at the time, or in a reasonable time—say four or five days—the notification being accompanied by a veterinary certificate. Otherwise, he may be notified a fortnight or three weeks later when the illness of the puppy might have nothing to do with him. I hope my suggestions may be of some use and I wish to give my hearty support to the Bill.

11.52 a.m.

I am very glad to speak in support of this Bill and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give it his blessing. Apart from the provisions relating to pet shops, I welcome especially the Clause which would prohibit the sale of un-weaned puppies and kittens, to which the hon. Baronet the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) has referred, and also the prohibition of sale to children under 16.

In moving the Second Reading, the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) told us that in Committee the Bill might be made more moderate, but I should like to see it strengthened on certain point For instance, I should like to see it provicied in the Bill that local authorities may have the power to refuse licences to keep pet shops to persons who have been convicted of cruelty to animals. The Bill makes it possible to refuse licences only to persons who have kept pet shops which have been declared to be unsuitable. I do not think that goes far enough. I think that a man who has been convicted of cruelty to animals should be refused a licence, if the local authority consider that course necessary.

As it stands, the Bill will do much to prevent ill-treatment of pet animals, especially in markets and streets. If it becomes law, sales of pet animals from barrows or stalls, other than in a market place, would be prohibited. We are told by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and we know from our own observations, that men are to be seen in the streets of London and elsewhere with two or three very young puppies tucked inside their coats, which they sell for the highest prices they can get. The R.S.P.C.A. says that it receives very many complaints from the public regarding these men and also regarding the sale of puppies and kittens from stalls and barrows in streets.

If the Bill is passed, it will be possible to sell pet animals in market places only by licence and only where the premises or stalls are considered by the local authority to be suitable would licences be granted. At present, in some instances, again to quote the R.S.P.C.A., the stalls are quite unsuitable for housing the animals and they are exposed to bad weather conditions. These two aspects of the Bill are very important. Some local authorities do provide proper accommodation in markets for the sale of pet animals, for which some make a charge but most do not. As an illustration, I would refer to the pet animal market in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where I have made some investigation. Up to 1941 sellers of dogs and other small animals used to sell these animals in a certain street in the city. As a result of representations, in 1941 the city council provided some shelter for animals exposed for sale in the wholesale vegetable market on Saturday afternoons in order to stop this practice. That is better than nothing. At least the animals are protected from rain, but the market is very bad and one R.S.P.C.A. inspector says:
"During the winter months it is one of the coldest places I have ever been in."
The market is bad, the animals are brought there in any kind of box or bag, there are no stalls on which to offer them for sale, and it is extremely cold. The hawking of puppies and kittens in streets and public houses, which goes on continuously, is even worse. These puppies and kittens, particularly the puppies, are offered for sale until late at night; they are carried about in bags or coat pockets, and are not fed, and they go back to heaven knows what conditions in their owners' homes, if they are not sold.

Can my hon. Friend say how this Bill will prevent that? I have been looking through it. Which Clause prevents that?

I agree that, as the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple said, it is not worded very clearly, but Clause 2 provides that pet animals shall only be sold either from pet shops or market places, and sales outside market places would be prohibited.

I think the subsection says:

"No person shall carry on the business of trading in pet animals…"
Would that cover casual sales in streets?

If my hon. and learned Friend will read on, he will see that it says:

"No person shall carry on the business of trading in pet animals except on premises…"
And "premises" is defined in Clause 5 in such a way that sales from barrows and stalls would be prohibited.

It does cover it, although I do not think the wording is particularly clear; but I did not draft the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Second Reading agreed that it might be made more clear, but that is definitely the purpose of the Bill and the wording might be improved in Committee.

It is the intention of the Bill that such sales shall be prohibited. I wish to draw particular attention to two aspects of the Bill, the regulation of sales in markets and the prohibition of sales outside the markets by vendors in streets and public houses. So far as those aspects are concerned, the Bill appears to do three things of great importance. First, it would make compulsory the provision of proper accommodation in markets. Secondly, it would make it very much easier for the police and inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. and other animal societies, who already do their best, to stop sales outside markets. Thirdly, by prohibiting sales outside markets, and thus making it much easier to stop them, it would drive out of the trade the more disreputable persons who are engaged in it. Therefore, while we have already recently given Second Readings to three very useful animal welfare Bills, I hope that we shall also give a Second Reading to this one.

12.1 p.m.

I have no great knowledge of this subject, but I should like to support the Bill. In the days of my youth, I was considerably addicted to pet shops, and went into a great many. There was no doubt in my mind that the less good pet shops perpetrated some atrocious forms of cruelty. I believe that the Bill will be welcomed by all good pet shops throughout the country. The only ones that will be worried will be the less reputable ones, and it is a very good idea to get rid of them.

I foresee some difficulty in defining exactly what is a pet shop. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) rather suggested that it might be a little difficult, but no doubt that will be overcome. It might be a gracious step, in view of the Spelling Reform Bill which failed to get a Second Reading last week, to propose that the pet shops benefiting by this Bill should spell their names P-E-T-O. I should like to endorse what the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman) said about the sale of puppies by people in markets and very often on the streets. I know that great cruelty is done in that way. As a small boy I once bought a puppy on the street, and it died two days afterwards. I hope that that sort of cruelty will be stopped. Perhaps it is that trade which gives us the old saying about being "sold a pup"; I do not know.

I very much hope that this Bill will result in some shops providing better conditions for caged birds awaiting sale. I am not thinking of parrots and the like, but the very small birds. I have seen shops containing immense numbers of finches and other small birds which were kept in bad conditions. No doubt their conditions are satisfactory when they are sold, but it is the period when they are awaiting sale that I am thinking about. I do not know whether it is possible to lay down specifications, but I hope that the Bill will mean an improvement for those unfortunate birds. There is an old song about a canary which had circles round its eyes. I hope that in the future Britain's canaries will not have circles round their eyes.

I have little to say except that I believe that the Whips are pleased that someone should get up and welcome the Bill. I am pleased to see that both sides of the House are absolutely united in one respect about this Bill. I refer to the absolute agreement that there shall be no interference whatever from the Government with the British tiger-breeding industry. That is most satisfactory, and I am glad that full re-assurance has been given by my hon. and gallant Friend to the man who displays such great private enterprise as breeding tigers and lions. That is the sort of thing which we all want to encourage.

I am pleased that this Bill has been brought forward. I believe it will eliminate many genuine cases of appalling cruelty which have previously existed. The possibility of inspection and of reporting, leading to action, will result in the less reputable concerns being run in a much better way. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.

12.5 p.m.

I feel that we are all grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto). In many instances pet shops have been places of great cruelty, and they have led to cruelty by sales to people who were wholly ignorant about how to treat the little creatures they bought. I believe that cruelty is far more often caused by negligence and ignorance than deliberately. This is one of the sources where that ignorant cruelty has been caused. I was particularly impressed by the suggestion made by the hon. Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) that when puppies are sold, a diet sheet should be sold with the puppy, and instructions given on the treatment of the animal. Such a provision should form part of the Bill.

I have often felt that our system of licensing dogs is a thoroughly illogical one. We ought to license dog-owners. The licence should be subject to a proper examination in the same way as is the motor driver's licence. There should be proper examiners, which I dare say the R.S.P.C.A. could arrange, and only those who pass the examination in a satisfactory manner and are qualified to know how to look after and treat a dog should be licensed to keep one. I do not know whether the Bill could be widened to that extent, but we might consider it.

I am glad that the Government are giving a helping hand to this Bill, subject to the proviso that, in my view, when we examine the Bill in detail, it will require extensive redrafting. I do not think that the definitions of the offences or acts prohibited are anything like adequate, and I hope that in giving assistance, the Government will not give only negative assistance. They have more or less a monopoly of Parliamentary draftsmen, and I hope they will provide some drafting assistance in Committee to put the various Clauses into proper order.

12.8 p.m.

Unlike my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), I am not rising to please any particular Whip or Whips, but merely to add to the general approval of this Measure which is obvious throughout the House. It deals with a subject of which all too little is known in the country. This was exemplified when I was asked yesterday "What is this Bill? Is a pet shop a place where one indulges in petting?" Another inquiry I had was whether it was possible under this Bill for a number of Members of this House, whom a critic regarded as "little pets," to be put in a shop and kept there for as long as possible.

There is undoubtedly not sufficient apprehension of the work and conduct of good pet shops and the existence of bad ones. I was pleased that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman) referred to what she termed the "casual trader," a form of sale which is all too prevalent late on Saturday nights. We shall all be delighted to see that sort of thing disappear once and for all. There is a necessity for further control of such pet shops as there are. It is self-evident that a society like the R.S.P.C.A. would not have been concerned with this matter for so long as it has been, had that necessity not existed. It may not be known that the R.S.P.C.A. receive daily complaints throughout the year as to the conduct of certain pet shops. In the London area alone the complaints average from 250 to 300 each year. That is rather a high figure, considering the number of pet shops there are. I say at once that by no means all of these complaints are justified; but unfortunately when complaints are found, in the view of the Society to be justified, their powers of prosecution are very limited under the existing law.

I welcome the provision in the Bill for the control of pet shops by local authorities In these days, when all too many powers of the local authorities are disappearing, it is rather pleasant to see a new one given to them. We could not have a better way of controlling pet shops. The average member of a local authority knows his area and knows the people who are carrying on business. He is probably better qualified to judge the rights or otherwise of any complaints than might be the case with a rather more anonymous inspector appointed by some central authority.

I also welcome the proposal that the registration and inspection shall be in the hands of the local authority. The one possible objection may be that there might be an infringement of the right of entry into private property. Regulations may have to be framed—and this may be a Committee point—to safeguard that; but so long as the right of entry remains in the hands of the local authority, there cannot be much danger.

There has been no legislation of this nature since the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and in many respects this Bill ties up the loose ends of that particular Act. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised the point of juvenile delinquency, and how proper control of pet shops might help in that respect. I think it would be an excellent thing if we had, not a communal, but a scholastic pet shop in every community, run and controlled by the local authority, for the purpose of inculcating into children a real appreciation of the good side of keeping pets. I hope that his suggestion will be taken up elsewhere.

This is not a large Bill but it is certainly a very humane and sensible one. When its purport is appreciated throughout the country it will be welcomed and I hope that the Under-Secretary, on behalf of the Government, will accept it and that once again we shall have completed what I may term a very useful Friday.

12.14 p.m.

I wish to support this Bill, and intervene merely to clear up one point. Again it is a matter of drafting which should be remedied. The Bill requires the regulation of the sales of pet animals, and rightly so. I do not know exactly how pet shops acquire their animals for sale. Some breed them and obviously some buy them through various channels. Some certainly buy them from householders, and Clause 2, subsection (3) seems to have some reference to that point. As that subsection stands at the moment, unless sales of pets are carried on in prescribed premises, this Bill will prevent a householder who owns a dog, from selling a litter of the animal's puppies to a pet shop in the usual way. The householder has no licence, and does not breed puppies as a business. I think that something should be done to remedy that matter.

The hon. Member's point is a very sensible one but is it not covered, at any rate to some extent, by Clause 5, the latter part of the definition of pet shops, where it says:

"a casual sale of a pet animal …"
and so on?

I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member, because these sales by a householder, who is not in business for the purpose of breeding puppies, will come within the provision of this Bill as it is now vaguely constituted. I ask that this be looked at in Committee to see whether some form of wording can be provided whereby a normal householder whose dog has a litter, can dispose of the puppies without going to the local authority for a licence. I do not think it is the intention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to deprive the householder of his right to own a dog, or of the dogs to have puppies, as they sometimes do. He does not want to discourage the ownership of pets, I am quite certain. I think a reasonable form of wording can easily be framed to cover the point in Committee, and I hope he and the other sponsors of the Bill will consider this.

12.18 p.m.

On recent Fridays, in legislation much more highly controversial than this, but actuated by similar humanitarian motives, there has generally been a penultimate Clause stating that the legislation did not apply to Scotland. I note that, so far as this Bill is concerned, Scotland is included. I have had but one letter on the question, and though I am in general agreement with the Bill, I must tell the hon. and gallant Member who introduced it that the letter was highly indignant about the introduction of the Bill and the effect it would have on a certain type of society. I know that the hon. and gallant Member has stated that their rights are not infringed by the Bill, but I should like it to be made perfectly clear that this Bill does not infringe the rights of cage bird societies. In my own constituency I have not a single pet shop, but there are quite a number of people who make a hobby of breeding birds, and in the pursuit of their hobby sell the birds to one another and to other people who wish to join in the same hobby.

Yes, racing pigeons also, especially in the mining areas. The point raised by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) might well be looked at also from the point of view of these people who are pursuing a legitimate hobby.

As I said in my opening speech, this Bill is not intended to be directed against those who engage in aviculture. Nor is it intended to give right of entry into private houses, other than those licensed as pet shops.

The definition Clause, to say the least, is very obscure. While the intention may be good, the Bill might lead to interference by certain people prepared to interpret the Clause a little more narrowly than the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I consider that this point is valid. I refer to the words:

"A casual sale of a pet animal from a place where animals are habitually kept otherwise than as pets …"
Thousands of animals are kept as pets. If in Committee that matter could be be cleared up, I would, on behalf of myself and the other Scottish Member who is here today, give a welcome to the Bill for Scotland.

12.20 p.m.

I wish to discuss three small points. One arises from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin). It is clear that the trade mentioned by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman), the disreputable dealer who hawks pets round public houses, ought to be stamped out as soon as possible. The hon. Lady portrayed the picture of a man with two puppies in one pocket and a kitten in the other; but there are legitimate people who meet in public houses or other public places to exchange pets for sale. For instance, I once sold a puppy on Liverpool Street Station because that was a convenient place at which to meet the man who intended to buy it from me. I wonder how that transaction would be affected by this Bill. Should I be forbidden from doing that, because that place is not classed under the heading "premises," nor is it defined under "pet shop"?

Might I make a friendly interruption? I hope the hon. Gentleman will be a supporter of myself and others, in view of what he and the last speaker said, in the Motion we have put down for a Committee to be set up to inquire into the treatment of all animals and into the treatment of fish. I must not deal with the treatment of fish now, but I think the way in which fish are caught and left to die on the deck of a trawler is terrible. The humane treatment of animals in this country is an important matter.

I have, of course, put my name to that Motion.

I hope that the point I have mentioned can be cleared up in later discussions. It is relevant. The other matter I wish to discuss concerns the transport of these animals. It is clear that in some open markets there is inadequate provision for the proper treatment of pets. It may be that there is proper provision for the animals in the depots or the homes of the traders, but from what I can see the animals are bundled into any kind of conveyance, all kinds of animals together, and it may be that on the journey from the home to the market considerable cruelty is caused. I hope that something to deal with that position can be included in this Bill.

My final point is in reference to the Schedule, which prohibits the sale of animals to children under 16. I can understand the reason that provision is included. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed out that in some cases children can be persuaded by unscrupulous dealers to take a weakly puppy or pet. There is also the other consideration that the parents may not approve of the children buying animals. On the other hand, I wish to make it clear that as a rule children are far more kindly disposed to pets than are adults. I should not like to think that children under 16 were being deprived automatically of the right to go to a pet shop, to choose whichever pet they wish to buy and to pay for it themselves. The proprietary right in the pet which they have bought with their own savings is a useful thing to encourage. I ask that more serious thought be given to that provision before the Bill goes further.

12.25 p.m.

I wish to give a little further emphasis to the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) A number of my constituents consider Clause 5 to be vague. They think that in practice it will probably lead to objectionable interference if this Bill becomes law. I have received a letter from the secretary of a cage bird society in my constituency. There are 40 members in the society and they are gravely disturbed about the possible consequences of the operation of this Clause as it is at present worded. In the letter the secretary of the society states:

"Members of my society, 40 in number, protest most vigorously against this proposed new Measure. Their hobby of bird breeding is the only form of relaxation available to them, and they are determined to brook no interference with it. People keep and breed birds through sheer love of such pets, and no small creatures could enjoy greater care and devotion from one year's end to another."
Some assurance should be given that if this Bill goes to a Standing Committee consideration will be given to the operation of Clause 5 as it affects cage bird societies and other similar organisations. I suggest that it should be so worded that in its operation it will not infringe upon the present right of the people who run these societies to do so without interference by officials.

I have already covered that point, both in my speech and in an intervention.

I doubt whether it has been covered to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. There are many people who are disturbed about the operation of this Clause.

Would my hon. Friend say what assurance he wants? The hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto), when moving the Second Reading, definitely excluded aviculture. I thought that he said everything that a reasonable person could have wanted. If the hon. Gentleman objects to that will he tell us what he wants?

I will read certain words of the Clause to indicate how vague they are:

" 'Pet shop' mean's any premises of whatever nature (including a private dwelling)"—
that is, a home—
"at which pet animals are kept for the purposes of trade, but so that a casual sale of a pet animal from a place where animals are habitually kept otherwise than as pets shall not itself be sufficient to require that place to be treated as a pet shop for the purposes of this Act."
Members of cage bird societies breed birds and sell and exchange them. It is suggested quite seriously that the wording of this Clause will have the effect of including within the definition of a pet shop the houses where members breed the birds and where they exchange or sell them. Many of these people are members of the same society and they exchange the birds among themselves or with breeders of birds or any person who may wish, to buy them. Is trading in birds within the meaning of the operative words of this Clause? If it is, then, on behalf of my constituents who have written to me on this matter, I suggest that some safeguard should be inserted so that in the circumstances I have tried to outline those people who engage in this business primarily as a hobby and not specifically for the purposes of making money shall not be subjected to inspection, as they would be, it is suggested, if the Clause were accepted in its present form.

12.31 p.m.

I support the comments made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas). I have a letter here from an old gentleman aged 86 whose only interest in life at the moment is the rearing and breeding of these small pets. He is particularly disturbed about Clause 5, and I hope that the promoters of the Bill will give that Clause more consideration in order to ensure that these small breeders of pets are not handicapped in their hobbies. All this old gentleman does is to breed these pets and sell a few of them in order to make sufficient money to pay for the seed which he has to buy. I hope the promoters of the Bill will see that these people whose only hobby in life is keeping these pets are in no way hampered in their relaxation.

12.32 p.m.

It is quite clear that hon. Members on all sides of the House are in favour of the principle which lies behind this Bill. I think it is also clear, however, particularly from the speeches in the latter part of the Debate, that the carrying into practice of that principle is not entirely an easy matter and that there are a good many reservations to be made.

This is not the first time that proposals of approximately this kind have been brought to the notice of the Home Office by various societies interested in the prevention of cruelty to animals. On past occasions the difficulty has always been to satisfy oneself as to the need, and the extent of the need, for provisions of this kind, including, as of course they do, penalties under the criminal law. It is rather a remarkable fact that, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there is no record in the Home Office of complaints about this matter prior to about a couple of years ago and we have, in fact, virtually no evidence one way or the other in the Office about the need for a Measure of this kind. In the last two years there has been only one definite case brought to our notice and that was a case where a man was, in fact, prosecuted and fined under the existing law, so that it is not very much of a support for the proposal that further legislation is required.

Perhaps I may refer very briefly to the existing law, which has not been mentioned very much in the speeches of hon. Members. Hon. Members are probably aware that under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, it is already an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or, if one is the owner of it, to permit such suffering to be caused. It is also an offence—and this meets the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd)—to convey or carry an animal in a manner which is likely to cause unnecessary suffering. There are certain provisions which might have a limited effect on the problem in the Public Health Act. They only affect the position if the keeping of pets gives rise to some kind of nuisance, in which case there are certain powers of inspection. Under that Act mention is specifically made of a nuisance caused by the manner in which animals may be kept. Nevertheless, I quite agree that under that Act the provisions are very limited.

The real difficulty—and I imagine this would be the contention of the promoters of the Bill—is that there is no evidence at the moment because there is no adequate means of obtaining the evidence, although it will be said that there is a widespread knowledge of a general kind that thoroughly bad conditions exist. It may be that the fact that there is not, at the moment, a system of licensing and the power of entry and inspection of the whole of the premises contributes to this difficulty. Nevertheless, I was rather struck by the fact that a number of the instances of cruelty which were given in hon. Members' speeches seemed to be instances of cruelty visible to the naked eye of the public and in no way requiring the power of search of premises. For instance, there was the question of inappropriate conditions on the stalls in market places and of animals being subjected to undue heat and sunshine in the window of a pet shop. I have no doubt that complaints about these things are made and I should have thought that under the existing law it was possible to deal with them if, indeed, they caused "unnecessary suffering," that being the phrase in the existing legislation. I should have thought these were matters which even in the existing conditions are easily ascertainable so that they can be made the subject of complaint and the basis of prosecution under the existing law if they amount to unnecessary suffering.

I could have given a great many instances of reports from different parts of the country from inspectors of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showing that their difficulty has been precisely the point which the hon. Gentleman made. I will quote one letter out of many, and I have pages of them:

"There are some 30 pet shops in my branch area. There is no doubt that in the majority of the shops there is a lot of suffering caused to the animals in the back yards where breeders keep their stocks in filthy surroundings. Such men will see that the R.S.P.C.A. inspector never gets his nose beyond the public parts of the shop."

I quite agree that there probably are cases of that kind, but at the moment I am talking about the type of case which does not fall within that definition but in which cruelty goes on under the eye of the public. What is odd about it is that if there really are many complaints of that kind, there do not seem to be a corresponding number of prosecutions, and one wonders whether the reason is, perhaps, that although many complaints are made very many of, them are ill-founded or the degree of suffering caused is so slight that on consideration the persons interested do not believe that any court would find that suffering had been caused.

I think there is another reason which leads one, perhaps, to demand that a certain proof be given of the widespread nature of this cruelty. After all, the people we are talking about are people who are selling animals and, generally speaking, I should have thought that it is in the interests of people who are selling animals to keep their animals in a reasonable condition of health. I agree they can sell a puppy to many people who are, no doubt, completely inexpert, but as business men they will be found out if they keep animals habitually in conditions which are injurious to health.

That applies to the regular dealer, but not to the casual dealer whose object is to sell the animal as quickly as possible. So long as it looks all right at the time it does not matter to him if it is in bad health.

I do not want to be side-tracked. Unless we are talking about persons trading in the street, casual dealers are specifically excluded from this Bill. That was alleged to be the provision in the Bill which gives protection to private persons who simply keep pets.

I do not want to appear to be crabbing this Bill too much, but I think it is my duty, particularly as all hon. Members have shown themselves anxious that something should be done to cover the subject, to point out some of the difficulties. I shall in a moment refer to some of the matters which seem to me to need particular attention in the Bill as it is drafted, but before I do so I should like to make a general comment about my standpoint in this matter. I think we must bear in mind that under the Bill we are creating a new criminal offence with quite heavy penalties attached to it, and we must, therefore, at least, be sure that the offence which we create is definite, well understood, and approved. We are giving new powers of entry into premises, including, in certain instances, the private dwellings of the people concerned. We are also putting a certain amount of work—perhaps, not much, but some—upon local authorities. I do not know whether they will welcome this. It may be that some will. We have not had an opportunity to make very widespread inquiries about that matter, though we have made inquiries in the London area, and the general reaction has been somewhat negative. It has not been thought by the local authorities or the police that there is very great need for the creation of new machinery for this purpose.

In that connection I was very interested in the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Mr. Price-White), who told us how many daily complaints there are made in the London area. He talked about 250 or 300 complaints a year—made, of course, to the Society. I think it must be the case that very few of those complaints go further and reach the authorities, because our information is that neither the London County Council nor the Metropolitan Police are aware of any great need for new provisions in the London area. That, perhaps, illustrates what I was saying before, that though there may be many complaints there are very few of such a definite nature that serious action is contemplated on them.

Much has been said about the anxiety of bird fanciers. I think most of us have had protests very much in the form of the one read out by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas). They relate to the definition of "pet shop" in Clause 5, which does seem to us to be a little wide and to need attention. I do not think we need be very worried about the definition of "pets." The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) told us of the anxiety of the gentleman who keeps lions as pets. I do not know that we need bother ourselves to safeguard lions very much by imposing penalties, because it seems to me that the keeping of pets of that nature carries with it its own deterrent. I am reminded of the immortal poem which, I think, came from Hilaire Belloc. I hope I shall not quote it wrongly.
  • "I had an aunt in Yucatan
  • She bought a python from a man
  • And kept it for a pet.
  • She died because she never knew
  • The simple little rules and few;
  • The snake is living yet."
I think, perhaps, we may leave those who keep such dangerous pets to look after themselves, on the basis of mutual respect between themselves and those for whom they care.

I do not want to take up now a lot of Committee points, but I should like to call attention to one or two which seem to us to require examination, starting from the basis that we should not create new criminal offences which are either vague, or uncertain in operation. I think that the Schedule is, perhaps, the most important part of the Bill in that respect. The first Regulation in the Schedule does seem to be rather sweeping. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas)—I hope I may catch him just before he goes away—seemed to me to know a great deal more about this subject than most of us in this House, and he made a most interesting and informative speech. He made, to some extent, the point I want to make, that it is, perhaps, rather difficult to lay down that it is in all circumstances a criminal offence to leave a pet unattended by some human being who could give instant warning of fire, and so on. It is, of course, desirable that there should be persons on the premises where pets are kept, but to say that if any pet of whatever nature is left alone for five minutes, as a consequence a person is liable to a fine of £50, is going rather a long way.

Regulations 3 and 4, which deal with inadequate space and the problem of excessive light and heat and subjection to discomfort, open great scope for arguments in the courts. I do not know who could judge what space was inadequate. Ought we to change the wording of the present legislation, which is, "causing of unnecessary suffering," to "discomfort"? I am not quite sure what we intend by it. There again it seems to me we may be imposing hardly upon a number of people. It is one thing to say, as in the present law, that we must not cause "unnecessary suffering." It is, surely, a rather different thing to say one is guilty of a criminal offence if he allows an animal to be so warm or so cold as to suffer some discomfort. Discomfort from heat or cold is a thing from which we all suffer from time to time, and I think we should consider very carefully whether we ought not, perhaps, to stick to the time-honoured phrase "unnecessary suffering," rather than take the matter any wider.

I do not want to take long over the other points. As the Bill was welcomed by some hon. Members on this side who come from Scotland I may just mention that there are certain drafting difficulties, which, no doubt, could be got over. There is no Clause which says that me Bill does not apply to Scotland, but in the body of the Bill, particularly in Clause 4, there is reference to the Protection of Animals Act, which, I am informed, does not apply in Scotland at all. There are one or two other places in the Bill where the phraseology would not fit Scottish conditions. Therefore, if it is intended that the Bill should apply to Scotland, there will have to be some minor alterations.

I am afraid I appear to have given the House a catalogue of difficulties. That is, indeed, the case, and I think it was my duty to do so. I think it was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who said he thought very considerable redrafting would be necessary, and he and one or two others indicated that it would be in the nature of tightening up, and for catching other malpractices which are not covered by the Bill at present. That may be so, but I would submit to the House that redrafting may also be in the other sense—that we may feel we are creating a rather considerable apparatus, that we are creating a heavy criminal offence, and that we must look very narrowly indeed at the need for creating the offence; and we may find that in certain respects we have to narrow down the provisions of the Bill as it at present stands.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

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