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Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 3:


Page 1, leave out lines 10 to 13.

The noble Lord said: Paragraph (a) of Clause 2 is totally redundant. One can only suppose it was lifted wholesale, along with other more relevant paragraphs, from some existing Act of Parliament and incorporated into this Bill by accident. Apart from anything else, taking as such is not an offence under Clause 1 of the Bill. If no other amendments had been tabled this evening, I suppose we could reluctantly have let it stand, but, as it has been agreed that certain improving amendments ought to be made—and indeed have already been accepted—it is only sensible to make this improvement too. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol: At the risk of boring everyone, I am happy to accept this amendment too. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, there was no offence of taking a wild mammal to begin with, so the paragraph was unnecessary. I am happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4:


Page 1, line 16, at end insert—
("(bb) the killing, in a reasonably swift and humane manner, of any such wild mammal if he shows that the animal had been injured or trapped in the course of either lawful sporting activity or vermin extermination;").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I should have made it clear earlier that, although I did not take part in the Second Reading of this Bill because of a long-standing prior commitment, I fully support the admirable aims of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in trying to outlaw the sort of sadistic practices and sadistic behaviour involving hedgehogs and other animals which she

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described so well in her Second Reading speech. The purpose of this amendment is only to try to eliminate any accidental loopholes or ambiguities which extreme proponents of so-called animal rights might exploit to hinder or render impossible traditional farming and other rural activities.

If prosecutions for the offences created by this Bill could be initiated only by the Crown Prosecution Service, there probably would not be much of a problem. However, for better or for worse, private prosecutions can be brought. Even if over 95 per cent. of such prosecutions result in acquittal, we know that the acquitted person is then at risk of receiving obscene telephone calls and possibly letter bombs and threats to his or her children. Therefore the fewer loopholes or ambiguities that can be exploited by those with extreme views, the better.

The purpose, more precisely, of this amendment is, first, to protect those who shoot, either for sport or for the purposes of vermin extermination and who then dispatch a slightly wounded hare or rabbit. That set of circumstances would not be covered—as I interpret it—by Clause 2(b). Secondly, the amendment would protect ferreters whose dogs had caught an unwounded rabbit, and, thirdly, it would protect those whether in the town, the country or the suburbs who have caught mice or rats in a trap which they then wish to dispatch, most usually by drowning.

That might appear, at first sight, to be covered by Clause 2(e) but that paragraph is ambiguous and could be construed so as to protect the trapper—if I may so describe the owner or user of a trap—only so long as the rat or mouse is in the trap. I have followed the rest of the wording of Clause 2(b) as far as possible. The word "swift" is used both in the sense of quick and in the sense of prompt, or, as the Shorter Oxford Dictionary expresses it, "performed without delay". The words "reasonably" and "humane" are self-explanatory.

I had originally ended the amendment with the words, "or rodent extermination" but to confine it to rodents would exclude rabbits. I believe that would be undesirable and therefore I have substituted the word "vermin" which, contrary to my earlier assumption, I have been told is legally sound and unambiguous. If the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, were minded to accept Amendment No. 8, that would achieve the same objective far more concisely. I await with interest her comments on that. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu: I support this amendment. It is, as I understand it, clearly the intention of the promoters of the Bill to draw a distinction between people who beat animals gratuitously and those who are attempting to dispatch animals as humanely as possible, particularly those which have either been injured or been trapped. There is a danger to which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has just referred, that a Bill of this nature may be employed to bring private prosecutions for purposes which were not intended by its promoters. It seems desirable that the purposes of the Bill should be absolutely clear on the face of the Bill. This amendment

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seems to me to serve an important and a useful purpose in making abundantly clear where the Bill is intended to apply, and for that reason I support it.

Lord Kilbracken: I do not see the need for this amendment, because it seems to me that, if a person acts in such a manner and kills any mammal in a swift and humane manner, he cannot possibly be said to have acted with cruelty, and he has to act cruelly in order to be guilty of an offence.

Lord Mancroft: While I support the intention of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I think that some of the other amendments which we may be able to secure to the Bill will deal with some or all of the points which he made. As regards trapping, there is already an exemption for the lawful use of a trap for the purpose of killing or taking a wild mammal under Clause 2(e). I hope that addresses the noble Lord's concern. More generally, however, I support the need for clarification but I believe that is only necessary in respect of the verb "beats" in an offence.

This is an issue to which we shall return with Amendment No. 8. However, I believe that specific clarification in respect of that verb would be more acceptable to the noble Baroness than a rather more general defence such as that set out in Amendment No. 4.

Baroness Nicol: I am remiss in not having had the two amendments grouped, because the debate is very much the same and there is a likelihood of conflict. I do not know whether procedurally I can suggest that at this point we debate Amendment No. 8, but I believe that it would be wise because we can make a decision on the basis of having heard all the arguments. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, would like to speak to his amendment, Amendment No. 8.

Lord Mancroft: I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the Committee for allowing me to do so. It may be for the clarification of the Committee if I do that. I hope that I shall not go over old ground.

The Bill makes it an offence to cruelly beat a wild mammal. At Second Reading the noble Baroness Lady Nicol gave examples against which that provision is aimed. She reported the case where six youths battered a wild rabbit to death by throwing a coat over the screaming animal and beating it with sticks. No one would dispute the need to prevent cruelty such as that. However, there may be times when it is necessary to kill a wild animal such as a rabbit or a hare by a blow to the back of the head. At present that is, quite rightly, lawful and humane. However, if more than one blow is inflicted does such an act of dispatch automatically become beating, and if so, would such beating be cruel? On recourse to dictionaries, I am advised that even a single blow may fall within the definition of "beats".

Our concern is to ensure that normal sporting and pest control activities are not caught by this provision. As I said at Second Reading, we are on difficult ground if we do not make clear which activities are prescribed. It may be argued that the courts would not find normal pest control activities to be cruel. But if an animal is dispatched by a blow to the head in the course of a sport which is opposed by animal rights groups, they would

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contend that the act of dispatch was unnecessary and therefore cruel. That would produce an argument in court. It may also be said that the Crown Prosecution Service would not entertain a prosecution in those circumstances. However, as I said at Second Reading and as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, in moving his amendment, our concern is the use to which this legislation might be put by animal rights groups in pursuing private prosecutions for their own political ends.

The ADAS and Local Government Reference Manual for Pest Control recommends that,


    "trapped squirrels are run out into a sack held over the cage entrance. Once in the sack they are moved into a corner and dispatched by a sharp blow on the head with a short heavy stick".

That is the official guidance, but it may well be that animal rights groups object to the dispatch of squirrels by that method. As a matter of fact, there is very little difference between that official prescription for dealing with squirrels and the description that the noble Baroness gave of a blanket being thrown over a rabbit and it being beaten. The difference, of course, is that in one case pest control staff would attempt to dispatch the squirrel with one blow, but in the other case the youths may have intended to punish the rabbit by repeated blows. In terms of what actually happens, the gap between the two activities is very narrow indeed.

I am certain, and I am advised by my legal advisers, that a statutory clarification is necessary. That is the purpose of my amendment. I have no wish to prevent the prosecution of people who cause unnecessary suffering to animals. It may be argued that this clarification would impose an additional burden on the prosecution since defendants might claim that they were trying to dispatch the animal with reasonable expedition. I reject that. I do not think that a magistrates' court would have difficulty in distinguishing between a responsible sportsman or pest controller on the one hand acting with "reasonable expedition" and a group of youths acting gratuitously on the other. Frankly, if it is suggested that the magistrates would have such difficulty in distinguishing between the two, that would only add to my anxieties about the word "beats".

It has also been suggested that to define "beats" would be invidious because none of the other verbs is defined. In fact, the Committee has already accepted clarification of the word "impales". None of the other verbs gives rise to any doubt. We all know what "kicks", "burns", "crushes" or "drowns" mean, but it is not clear what "beats" means.

It has also been suggested that no definition of "beats" is provided in respect of the protection afforded to domestic animals under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which already makes it an offence to cruelly beat an animal. That argument completely misses the point that domestic animals are not dispatched by blows to the head. It is precisely the failure to understand the difference between what is done to domestic and to wild animals that underlines the need for clarity in legislation of this kind.

As she told the Committee, the noble Baroness kindly chaired discussions with the RSPCA and the League Against Cruel Sports before the Committee stage and

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after Second Reading. We reached a consensus except, as the noble Baroness said, on this issue. However, the very presence of the League Against Cruel Sports at that meeting gives me great cause for concern. This Bill is no longer meant to be aimed at country sports which the league opposes. So why does it have an interest in its provisions? That makes me doubly determined to ensure that, without weakening in any way the main purpose of the Bill, none of its provisions can in any way be used against legitimate countryside activities.

The league suggested at the meeting that there might be circumstances in which it would wish the provisions to be used to stop an attempt to kill an animal with a blow to the head if the animal was of an inappropriate size or weight, or the instrument used was not sufficient. Where will the objections end? Since the league, which has taken out many private prosecutions in the past, objects to the coursing of hares, for example, what happens if a hare coursed legally is caught and needs to be dispatched by a blow to the head? What guarantee do we have that the league will not prosecute that activity? We must have clarity on the face of the Bill, and we must protect legitimate countryside activities.

The noble Baroness has shown tremendous flexibility and great courtesy in the way she has piloted this Bill, and the Committee will be grateful to her for that. I am grateful to her for taking on board what I hope she will agree have been legitimate concerns, expressed gently but firmly from many sides of the Chamber. I must emphasise again that I wish to see the Bill go forward to the statute book. I do not want to create obstacles. This clarification, which is merely, in the words of the amendment itself, "for the avoidance of doubt", in my view and that of all my legal advisers, is absolutely essential.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: Having spoken in relation to Amendment No. 4 perhaps I may now speak in relation to Amendment No. 8. Looking at the amendment, it seemed to me necessary to consider it very closely to see whether, first, it proposed changes which were necessary and, secondly, whether they were desirable. So far as concerns necessity, it seems to me on reflection that the amendment covers a situation which is omitted from Amendment No. 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, where, for example, an attempt is made to kill a wild mammal by beating it with a stick or club when it is neither already injured nor trapped. Obvious examples would be a mole emerging on to a lawn or a rat running out of a pipe. Amendment No. 8 seems to cover all the situations which the earlier amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, was intending to deal with, and also that additional situation.

The question which then falls to be considered is whether it is necessary to interpret further the word "beats", given that no such attempt is made in relation to any of the other words in Clause 1. On reflection, the amendment does not seek to define the word "beats" but

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simply indicates an activity which will not constitute cruel beating under the Bill. That seems to me a desirable step.

The last question which troubled me in relation to the amendment was whether it would produce an unreasonable obstacle to prosecution in proving an accused person to be guilty of cruelly beating. Repeated blows which fail to kill an animal with reasonable expedition will not provide a defence in a case where the court takes the view that the accused person was not in fact trying to kill the animal swiftly. That would be a matter of fact for the court to determine on the evidence, no doubt depending in part on the number and nature of the blows and the surrounding circumstances. In any event, following the amendment which the Committee has just made to Clause 1 of the Bill, the court will have to determine the intention of the accused before there can be a conviction. It seems to me that the amendment would impose no additional burden on a prosecuting authority in that respect. For those reasons, having already spoken in favour of the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I believe that Amendment No. 8 both encompasses that amendment and deals with matters which would otherwise have been excluded. It is therefore the more desirable of the two.


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