Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th April 1959.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his attention has been drawn to the death of two horses as a result of the recent Grand National Steeplechase; and if he will again consult with the National Hunt Committee as to the conditions applicable to this particular race.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he is aware of the abhorrence with which the present form of steeplechasing is regarded; and if he will introduce legislation to facilitate the prosecution for cruelty to animals of promoters of this type of horseracing;
(2) If he will appoint a committee to inquire into the risks of injury and death involved for horses in organized steeplechase races.
I have received representations which I have most carefully considered, but I do not consider that there is any action which I could properly take.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my Question is not directed to steeplechasing in general but to the particular Grand National race in the course of which this year two horses died, three were injured, 30 failed to finish the course, one was seen to be bleeding from the nostrils and 17 from the flanks in the paddock afterwards? How can it be said that we are an animal-loving country if we permit horses to be exploited in this way?
I have gone into this as closely as I can and I have received a report from the senior veterinary surgeon on duty at the course. He saw all the horses after the race and reported that only two showed any signs of blood to which my hon. Friend refers. He described some of the injuries as slight. I do not want to underestimate this and if it is the wish of the House I will certainly entertain conversations with the National Hunt Committee on the subject.
Is the Home Secretary aware that I can give him the names of 60 horses which have been slaughtered in the Grand National? Is he also aware that his predecessor, the present Lord Chancellor, consulted the National Hunt Committee and was completely hoodwinked by it and misled into thinking that some very minor changes would stop the further massacre of horses? These changes have not done so. Is he aware that the vast majority of decent people in this country think that it is a disgrace on the part of the Government that they should shilly-shally on this issue and never do anything constructive to stop this massacre?
First, I would not accept any criticism of my predecessor, the Lord Chancellor, who had conversations of which I am fully aware with the National Hunt Committee in 1954. In the second place, I have examined very closely the results of the Grand National this year. As I have said, I am quite ready myself to have conversations with the National Hunt Committee. Whether I shall be hoodwinked by it or not, the House will see later, but I am very ready to have conversations with the Committee. In the third place I cannot accept the strictures of the hon. Gentleman which derive, I think, from his heart and his love of animals, which we all share, rather than from an exact appreciation of the situation which we see before us. I think that the best thing is to allow me to have these conversations and then the House will be able to get some idea of the result.
We are very glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is not leaving this matter, and we hope that he will pursue it further. I hope that he realizes how strong is the feeling on both sides of the House and in many parts of the country on this question.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I would remind him that there are certain qualifications, which are very strict, before horses can enter this race. On the other hand, the result of the race in which only four out of 34 finished, leads me to believe that further conversations are necessary.
What answers does the right hon. Gentleman expect to get from the Committee? Does he expect to get a favorable answer or one that suits the Committee?
I think that one might at least look at the course, which all politicians should look at themselves.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although there are certain risks in carrying out its occupation, a steeplechase horse leads an extremely contented and good life, and that if it were not for steeplechasing that horse would probably be sold abroad and slaughtered under far worse circumstances? Further, is my right hon. Friend aware that I hold in my hand the hair of a horse which has successfully negotiated the Grand National course without injury, and without touching a twig, at an old age? There is no special risk to a horse running in the Grand National.