DOG FIGHTING (PENALTIES) BILL

Standing Committee C

DOG FIGHTING (PENALTIES) BILL

18 February 1987

PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Standing Committee C

DOG FIGHTING (PENALTIES) BILL

Wednesday 18 February 1987

CONTENTS

SITTINGS motion agreed to.

CLAUSES 1 and 2 agreed to, with amendments.

BILL, as amended, to be reported.

COMMITTEE rose at six minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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1

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

(Chairman: MR. PATRICK CORMACK)

Banks, Mr. Tony (Newham, North-West)

Barron, Mr. Kevin (Rother Valley)

Bowden, Mr. Gerald (Dulwich)

Bright, Mr. Graham (Luton, South)

Deakins, Mr. Eric (Walthamstow)

Field, Mr. Frank (Birkenhead)

Gale, Mr Roger (Thanet, North)

Galley, Mr. Roy (Halifax)

Greenway, Mr. Harry (Ealing, North)

Griffiths, Mr. Peter (Portsmouth, North)

Hannam, Mr. John (Exeter)

Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Oppenheim, Mr. Phillip (Amber Valley)

Powley, Mr. John (Norwich, South)

Rogers, Mr. Allan (Rhondda)

Smith, Mr. Tim (Beaconsfield)

Soley, Mr. Clive (Hammersmith)

Wrigglesworth, Mr. Ian (Stockton, South)

D. G. Millar, Committee Clerk.

2
3 Standing Committee C Wednesday 18 February 1987

[MR. PATRICK CORMACK in the Chair]

Dog Fighting (Penalties) Bill

10.30 am

Resolved, That during the proceedings on the Dog Fighting (Penalties) Bill the Committee do meet on Wednesdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Greenway.]

Clause 1
AMENDMENT OF PROTECTION OF ANIMALS ACT

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, leave out lines 6 to 9 and insert: "(offences of cruelty to animals), for the words from 'shall be liable' onwards substitute 'shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both'.". The amendment relates to clause 1, which alters the maximum penalties provided under section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911. The clause substitutes "level 5 on the standard scale" for "fifty pounds". However, schedule 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 increased the £50 fine to £500, and section 46 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982 amended it to level 4 on the standard scale. As a result, the words "fifty pounds" no longer appear in section 1(1) of the 1911 Act. Clause 1 will not work. Nothing can be substistuted for the words "fifty pounds" because those words no longer appeal in section 1(1) of the 1911 Act. The amendment changes the clause to ensure that the Bill includes the proposed new maximum penalties of imprisonment for up to six months or a fine not exceeding level 5, or both. The Bill increases maximum penalties under the Protection of Animals Act 1911—

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): Will the hon. Gentleman say how much level 5 fines are?

Mr. Greenway: I am coming to that very point. The Bill increases maximum penalties under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, so that in future the maxima will be imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level five on the standard scale—currently £2,000—or both. Clause 1 is therefore the heart of the Bill but, unfortunately, the drafting of the clause requires alteration, and that is the purpose of the amendment.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North): I have no objection to the amendment, which further the intention of the Bill. Will my hon. Friend explain whether the amendment means that the person con- 4 victed will remain the owner of the dog that took part in the dog fight? Will that person be allowed to own dogs in the future? In the past, an offence of cruelty to an animal has normally led to the dog involved being removed from the ownership of the convicted person, who was also banned from owning dogs. I welcome the severity of the penalties but, in addition, the individual should be banned from keeping a dog for a fixed period.

Mr. Rogers: I am also disappointed by the new prescribed sentences. In 1911, the £50 penalty related to the earnings of the savages, members of the nobility or whoever it was who practised dog fighting at that time. Related to the average wage in those days, £50 was a very heavy fine. By present day standards, £2,000 is not sufficiently severe; it is probably a reduction in real terms. I agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) that we should take into account the continual repetition of the offence. It is a disease that strikes some communities, and the punishment does not get at it effectively.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith): The problem would be solved if we had day fines, as they are related to the income of the offender. That is important, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) said, we are dealing with people from a wide range of incomes. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) talked about the dog being taken away from its owner. The Minister and I serve on the Committee that is considering the Criminal Justice Bill. As I understand it, the wording of that Bill will allow the dog to be confiscated as it was part of the offence. Is that right?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I commend the amendment to the Committee, as it creates a proper level of penalty. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) may be interested to know that section 3 of the principal Act, the Protection of Animals Act 1911, gives the courts the power to deprive an offender of his animal. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) mentioned day fines. I have had the privilege of hearing about them daily since the beginning of December when we started to consider the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Greenway: I share the desire of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) to secure the maximum possible fine for people convicted of what is a wicked offence. If I were uninhibited, I should fine them £10,000 a shot. The Bill provides a maximum fine of £2,000, which a magistrate could impose for each convicted offence. So, if an individual were convicted on five counts, the magistrate could impose a fine of £10,000, which is a considerable amount.

5

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Greenway: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 9, at end insert— "() The above amendment does not apply in relation to offences committed before the commencement of this Act.". The amendment will ensure that the changes in the maximum penalties under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which the Bill makes, cannot apply to offences committed before the Bill takes effect. It is important that someone should know the likely consequences of his actions if he commits a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for an offence must be certain at the time at which it is committed. The law must not shift the goal posts during the match. That is an important principle. As well as being good practice, it is provided for in article 7.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We want to maintain the principle and also to comply with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.

Mr. Rogers: I do not understand the logic of the amendment, and I shall vote against it. I do not see why, if someone is entrapped for an offence and goes through the process of justice, the consequences should not be altered. The Government are not averse to doing that—they altered the labour laws and changed the penalties for strikers—so why do they not do it for dog fighters?

Mr. Douglas Hogg: Although I hear what the hon. Member for Rhonnda (Mr. Rogers) says, I ask the Committee to support the amendment, which seeks to ensure that there is no retrospective quality in the imposition of penalties. The general principle that we should adopt is that people should be punished only by those penalties in existence at the time at which they committed the offences of which they are convicted: they should know the consequences of what they do at the time that they do it. It would be unfair, wrong in principle and contrary to practice to impose a higher penalty in circumstances where the higher penalty was introduced after the date of the offence. I suggest to the Committee, therefore, that it should accept the amendment.

Mr. Soley: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) made a fair point when he said that the Government had gone in for retrospective legislation when it suited them, particularly on local government matters, even though Conservative Members always lecture the Labour party on the evils of retrospective legislation. I agree that retrospective legisation that increases the penalty upon a person after the offence has been committed is wrong in principle. The Government should never have legislated retrospectively where they have, and I recommend that the Committee accept the amendment on the grounds that retro- 6 spective legislation that increases rather than decreases a penalty is unacceptable. If the penalty were being decreased, the argument on retrospection would be different.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2
SHORT TITLE, COMMENCEMENT AND EXTENT

Mr. Greenway: I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 2, page 1, line 10, leave out "Dog Fighting" and insert "Protection of Animals". The Bill has a long history. My original concern had been to obtain increased maximum penalties for the barbaric activity of dog righting. However, it was clear that it would be inappropriate to try to increase the penalties just for this specific form of cruelty to animals, vicious as it is. The Bill seeks to increase the maxima for all offences under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. The current title of the Bill "Dog Fighting (Penalties) Act 1987" is therefore inappropriate, and amendment No. 3 seeks to change the title to read: "Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987." I hope that the Committee will accept that necessary alteration.

Mr. Douglas Hogg: I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West): Will the Minister expand slightly? I whole-heartedly support the Bill, and was fortunate enough to be in the House on the Friday when it had its Second Reading and secured its passage to the Committee. It drives the argument about dog-fighting home. Dog fighting causes grave anxiety to many people in my part of east London. However, I want to be sure that we are not throwing the dog out with the bathwater.

Mr. Hogg: I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I apologise for being too brief—the first time that I have ever had to do so to a Committee.

The Chairman: I hope that it will not be the last.

Mr. Hogg: I hope that it will not be the last. A number of offences are covered by the 1911 Act, and the Bill increases the penalties for all those offences. It would therefore be misleading to give it the narrow title to which my hon. Friend referred. The measure is more general, and the title should describe that fact.

Amendment agreed to.

10.45 am

Mr. Greenway: I beg to move amendment No. 4, in Clause 2, page 1, line 10 at end insert— "() The following enactments are repealed— 7

  • the Protection of Animals Act (1911) Amendment Act 1912;
  • in Schedule 6 to the Criminal Law Act 1977, the entry relating to the Protection of Animals Act 1911".
  • The purpose of the amendment is to provide for the repeal of two pieces of legislation which, in the past, have altered the maximum penalties under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and which will be overtaken by the new penalties which the Bill seeks to introduce. The first proposed repeal is the Protection of Animals Act (1911) Amendment Act 1912. That Act has a lengthy title, but it had only one effect: it reduced from six months to three months the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed under section 1(1) of the 1911 Act. The second proposed change is to schedule 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The 1977 Act provides for increases in the maximum fines which could be imposed under a variety of other statutes. For offences under section 1(1) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the maximum fine was increased from £50 to £500. This was set out in Schedule 6 to the 1977 Act. The Bill seeks to repeal this provision. I believe that the repeals which this amendment provides for are helpful changes which will remove any possibility of ambiguity in the law. I hope that the Committee will agree to accept the amendment.

    Mr. Douglas Hogg: I share the views expressed by my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Mr. Greenway: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 13, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'. This amendment seeks to make a minor drafting change to the present provision in the Bill, clause 2(3). As it is presently drafted, it refers to "Scotland and Northern Ireland". The amendment would change that to "Scotland or Northern Ireland", which is the customary formulation. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

    Mr. Peter Griffiths: I simply seek an assurance that, although the original Act, which this Bill amends, did not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, similar legislation on dog fighting in Scotland and Northern Ireland is either in effect, or anticipated. Dog fighting there is as abhorrent to me as it is in Hampshire.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

    Mr. Douglas Hogg: We have concluded our debate on the two clauses before the Committee, and I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North 8 (Mr. Greenway) on his successful work on this long-overdue Bill. He and his sponsors are much to be congratulated.

    Mr. Soley: May I equally briefly welcome the Bill? The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred to clause 1 as the heart of the Bill, then proceeded to do a heart transplant, because he made a complete change to that clause. Indeed, he made a number of other changes. The Bill is widely welcomed. Most people find dog fighting abhorrent. I agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) that legislation should be brought to bear in Scotland and Northern Ireland, too. I have often said that we should copy one piece of legislation from Northern Ireland by introducing dog wardens. They would not only encourage people to look after their dogs better, but would also deal with strays in a more effective and humane way. They would also ensure that I could walk through my front gate without confronting the problems created by the mobile sewage machine that roams up and down my road. There is a strong case for dog wardens which the Home Office ought to consider. That measure would receive considerable support from Members on both sides of the House.

    Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow): Clause 2(2) provides a two-month delay before the Act comes into effect. What is the reason for that?

    Mr. Douglas Hogg: That is a fairly usual provision. As a general practice, we allow a period of time to elapse before a new Act comes into effect to enable all the relevant prosecution authorities—the courts and so on—to be aware of its consequences.

    Mr. Greenway: May I first thank you, Mr. Cormack, and the House staff for your good offices in the important matter of the Bill? I add to that my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for his kind remarks and for his support and that of his Department. It has been much appreciated. Without that support the Bill could not have proceeded. I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) for his support. I have no responsibility for what dogs do on his doorstep, though I deplore it. He made an important point, but it is not for me to comment further at this stage. I thank all hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), whose substantial help on the Floor of the House facilitated the passage of the Bill into Committee. That is much appreciated, as is the stand of all hon. Members against this disgusting, unacceptable and vicous so-called sport of dog-fighting and dog-baiting, and the extension of that to the baiting of any animal. Such behaviour is totally reprehensible in any civilised society, even in a less civilised society than ours. We should do anything that we can against it. 9 Finally, renewed thanks to you, Mr. Cormack, and to all those present for their kindness in attending this morning. I shall also not forget the support that I have had from the RSPCA in this important matter, as in many others.

    10

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Bill, as amended, to be reported.

    Committee rose at six minutes to Eleven o'clock.

    THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

    Cormack, Mr Patrick (Chairman)

    Banks, Mr. Tony

    Barren, Mr.

    Bowden, Mr. Gerald

    Bright, Mr.

    Deakins, Mr.

    Galley, Mr.

    Greenway, Mr.

    Griffiths, Mr. Peter

    Hannam, Mr.

    Hogg, Mr. Douglas

    Powley, Mr.

    Rogers, Mr.

    Soley, Mr.