Orders of the Day — Dogs Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th February 1975.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

1.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

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

I should like, first, to thank Mr. Ryle of the Public Bill Office for his help in drafting the Bill. I also thank the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain for its guard dog charter, which is in the schedule to the Bill.

Dogs have frequently been described as man's best friend, and there is no doubt that if they are properly trained and controlled most people would agree with that. We all know the value of guide does for the blind, of shepherds' dogs, of police dogs, and of many others. Very few people would dispute their value.

However, many people regard dogs as dangerous, and there is no doubt that they sometimes attack people, frequently cause road accidents, constantly foul footpaths, roads and parks, and spread disease. A small booklet was recently sent to Members. It is entitled "Fido. Something only you can do", and the author says that a further hazard is added when we learn from the researches of Professor Woodruff, at the London School of Hygiene, that about 20 per cent. of the dogs in Britain are infested with Toxocaris, a disease which can cause blindness to anyone and in particular to children to whom the infection is passed. Thus, it is apparent that many people do not regard the dog as man's best friend.

Many local authorities are having considerable trouble with packs of dogs roaming round housing estates and other parts of cities. One newspaper, referring to the situation in Birmingham, said: Packs of dogs have been roaming through Birmingham, frightening people, rampaging through school playgrounds, and even invading classrooms, according to the city council. Local authorities in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Hamilton, East Kilbride, Birmingham and, I believe Liverpool have complained that they cannot take the action which they would like to take to control dogs because the law does not allow them to do so.

When I first introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill in October 1968 on this subject it caused great hilarity, especially to the Prime Minister and the then Leader of the Opposition, and the hilarity spread to other Members. That reaction was bitterly resented not only by myself but by the newspapers and the general public. I think that recent tragedies have ensured that the House will not treat this subject with hilarity today. It is sad that tragedies have to occur before action is taken.

The Bill is a modest attempt to make a start with effective legislation to prevent the most frequent form of trouble arising from dogs. It does not pretend to solve all the problems, nor will it do so. It would not have prevented some of the recent tragedies—I should not for a moment claim that for it—but had it been on the statute book it could have prevented some of the accidents that have occurred.

This measure seeks to put a legal obligation on all people to display a notice on premises where a dog is kept saying "Beware of the Dog". One can argue that not all dogs are dangerous. If the owners of dogs are asked about this, one learns that virtually no dog is dangerous, but if one judges from the fact that a large number of people are bitten by them, there is no doubt that dogs can be dangerous, wherever they are kept, and that applies not only to large dogs but to small ones too.

The law requires the posting of warning notices in other contexts where dangers exist. For example, if there is dangerous machinery in a factory, there is a legal necessity to put up a notice warning of the dangers and what should be done to avoid them. If one goes to the seaside, one sees warning notices about the risk of bathing in certain areas at certain times.

Dogs can present a serious danger. Every year thousands of people are bitten by dogs, many of them seriously, and in one or two instances the result has been fatal. Dog bites have resulted in people having to spend months in hospital, and some have subsequently been disabled for life.

This is a problem which affects people in many walks of life. Those who deliver bread, milk, coal, the paper boy delivering the newspapers and the postman delivering mail all have to call at houses, and they all run the risk of being bitten.

Nearly everyone who does a daily round as part of his work has one part of his round which he does not like to visit because of the danger of a dog in the area. If he is bitten by that dog he becomes even more apprehensive than before, and this applies to all sorts of people.

A few years ago I received a letter from my trade union pointing out that a number of its members had to face this hazard day in and day out. People have to call at houses to empty bins, to make electricity, gas and water repairs, and to carry out various other jobs. Even the city assessor has to call at houses to check on the voters' roll.

One man wrote to me telling me of his experience. He knocked at the door, and a woman opened it and invited him into the house. She said that if he would wait for a minute or two while she went to put on the kettle, she would come back and answer his questions. While she was out of the room, two Alsatians came in and started snarling at him. He jumped on the table and tried to get away from them. Fortunately, the woman returned very shortly and sent the dogs away, commenting to the frightened man—as an owner usually does—"The dogs would not have touched you." She may have believed that, but he certainly did not.

That sort of experience gives rise to fear and apprehension, and it sometimes reaches the point that people give up their jobs. The fear gradually builds up to the point at which someone decides he can no longer face it day after day and he starts to look for another job which does not carry this hazard. This is a serious problem, and it affects many people.

Sometimes, packs of dogs roam round certain areas and present such a danger that people will not leave their homes. This can create great difficulties. The police investigate any complaint, but there is not a great deal that they can do.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Alsatians coming into a sitting room and the gentleman concerned jumping on the table but I have not come across packs of dogs roaming the streets of cities. Can he say where this happened? Was it in Dundee, or where did it occur?

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) had been listening to me he would know that I had listed a number of cities where this had happened. One of them is his own city of Glasgow.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

I have a newspaper cutting in my possession which bears the headline, Dog packs roaming in Birmingham. Apparently they invaded classrooms—not just playgrounds. There was a recent case in Luton where a pack of dogs invaded a school playground and bit 11 children. There have been many cases of this happening, and many cities have been affected. If the hon. Gentleman cares to refer to Hansard, he will discover that on a previous occasion I listed the cities affected—

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

"Roam" is a very emotive word. One immediately thinks of wolves roaming and of a great pack of wolves. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman himself has seen packs of dogs roaming—or is it that he has met someone who has met someone else who has seen them roaming? I should like to hear more about this.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

I have seen packs of dogs roaming in my own city. What is more in the Library only a few minutes ago I was reading a report in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser about a housing scheme in Dundee where trouble of this kind occurred only two days ago. It is a common problem. It occurs in places like Glasgow, Aberdeen, and so on. I shall not repeat what I said earlier, which apparently the hon. Gentleman did not hear or was not present to hear. I have listed these places already.

A number of city councils have complained to the Government that they have not sufficient power to take the steps that they want to take to deal with the problem. This is not a matter of one individual's apprehensions. The problem has become so great that the city councils in all these areas have sought powers to deal with it because they have not adequate powers at the moment. It is a serious problem and not any individual's haphazard idea of what it is. It is a serious problem when councils all over the country seek permission for powers to do more about it than they can do under the existing law.

Clause 2 of the Bill provides that any person who owns a guard dog shall register with a police authority and shall be licensed. I shall not go into the details. Hon. Members can read it for themselves.

There is also a schedule which lays down rules for guard dogs. The schedule is largely the one which the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain suggested in its charter. However, there is one important provision which is contained in paragraph 9 of the schedule, which is not in the charter. The paragraph reads: Any guard dog who has bitten a person and in respect of which the owner has been cautioned by a court shall be marked in a prescribed manner to indicate this fact. This is included in the schedule because it has been pointed out by the police that if a dog bites anyone it is presumed by the court to be the first time. Invariably the court orders the owner to keep the animal under control. If it is found to have bitten a second time, the owner is liable to a penalty which may amount to 20 shillings per day until such time as he keeps the dog under control.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Gentleman cites the instance where a dog bites a second time. What happens if it is the result of provocation? Presumably it should be taken into account if the dog has been threatened. Dogs are not entirely unreasonable creatures.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

This is the difference of opinion which exists between the two different groups to which I referred. I do not know into which of the two groups the hon. Gentleman falls. It may be that he comes somewhere between the two. But there are those who think that dogs are nearly always right. There are others who think that they are nearly always wrong. There are the two groups. But there are people who fall between the two and try to keep a balance.

This part of the Bill is supported by the RSPCA, so there is nothing anti-dog about it. Many of the large security firms which own and employ guard dogs also support it. The organisation known as the Friends of Intelligent Dog Owners supports it. There is a fair amount of support for it, proving conclusively that there is nothing anti-dog or anti-dog owner about the Bill. All it seeks to do is to force bad dog owners to become good dog owners.

I think that I am entitled to expect my Bill to get a Second Reading. If any hon. Member has reservations about it, I shall be glad to recommend that he be appointed to serve on the Standing Committee, where he will have every opportunity to move amendments, assuming, of course, that he can carry the Committee with him. I am open to any suggestions. I do not pretend that the Bill is perfect.

There are people who feel that the Bill does not go far enough. Some people would like it to go much further. I have had a flood of letters from people telling me about other provisions which it should contain because they feel that it should go much further. I have also had representations from certain hon. Members suggesting that it does not go far enough. It is fair to say that I have had some representations suggesting that it goes too far. In any event, it is subject to amendment in Committee.

Recent events have demonstrated the need to have much better control than we have at the moment. The Government propose that there should be guidelines laid down to security firms about guard dogs. But this would be purely voluntary. I believe that something more than a voluntary act is necessary to deal with the problem. For that reason, I shall not object to any alterations which may be suggested in Committee. However, I think that the Bill should be given a Second Reading so that it may be considered in much more detail in Committee.

1.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

I have much pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) in his efforts to impose some control on guard dogs and their owners. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence. He has been raising this matter regularly over the past eight years. Initially, he was greeted with some hilarity. It is tragic that my hon. Friend has to be supported by the facts of life as they are today before his Bill receives serious consideration.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I all represent constituencies in the east end of Glasgow, and we are brought close to a tragedy in Glasgow because of the lack of control over guard dogs. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in answer to a Question last week that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland had issued a code. The Bill follows the code practically word for word but gives it the backing of the law.

There are regulations about dogs at the moment, about fouling of the footpaths and strays and so on, but the law is being ignored. We fear that guard dogs will proliferate, since people without experience are calling untrained dogs "guard dogs" and advertising a security service. The dogs are usually let loose—

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Gentleman says that the law is not being properly carried out. That is a serious general statement. Can he be more precise?

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

There may have been prosecutions resulting from dogs fouling the footpaths, but none has come before me in the Glasgow courts, nor have I read about any in the newspapers.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

The question of dogs fouling the footpath is a different matter. I am not very well up on the law, but presumably there is a common law protection which can be enforced against the owners of dogs which bite people. I thought that the hon. Gentleman meant that that aspect of the law was not being enforced. The fouling of the streets is irritating, but it is of a slightly different dimension from physical injury.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

The hon. Member has made several interventions. If he is successful in catching my eye, as I am sure he will be, he will be able to have a bite at the Bill in his own right in a very few minutes.

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Certain laws about dogs are not being fully operated. Any code of conduct can be ignored. Although the Bill is primarily concerned with guard dogs, we are not dog haters or unconcerned about the protection of property. We want to ensure that the dogs are properly trained and their handlers properly qualified, and that there is proper supervision and licensing. The training of a dog for guard duties in training schools takes only from six weeks to two months, and training is in the interests of property owners and security firms.

In the tragic case in Glasgow, the dogs were found miles from the scene, with no identification, and the owner had to claim them. Identification is essential so that the owner can be traced. As for the licence, the fee in 1876 was 7s. 6d., as it is today, and there has been some inflation since then. The fee should be considerably increased.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you reprimanded me for asking questions, but if one does not ask questions at the time, one does not get an answer. We have plenty of time and this is an important matter.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

I was only trying to regulate the debate, knowing that the hon. Gentleman would probably wish to participate. If the hon. Member who is speaking gives way, the Chair cannot prevent the hon. Gentleman from intervening.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

On this interesting point about inflation, why should there be any licence at all? Why should anyone have to buy a licence for a dog'?

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

I shall come to that point later. Certainly, 7s. 6d. in 1876 is worth much more today.

If we want people to abide by the laws, that will cost a lot of money. Something should be done about the amount of crude sewage and millions of gallons of urine deposited in our streets and parks. I should like the byelaws extended from public footpaths to recreation fields and public parks.

It is essential that dog handlers should be of good character because they are providing a service in which they must be trustworthy. Training, identification, licensing and the character of the handler are all important. The Bill would give the whole force of law to the code of conduct.

The clause which causes some controversy, certainly judging from the letters which I have received, is that relating to notices. I have received 231 letters, only 18 of which were somewhat abusive, calling me a dog hater. In the quest for realism, television or film producers often give blueprints to criminals. For instance, engineers have built a safe that no cracks-man could open. If he tried to blow it up he would blow up the building with it. But a television producer can show how a bank can be robbed without going near the safe, how a warehouse can be robbed and how a criminal can open a window with a piece of celluloid. People are therefore buying dogs increasingly not as pets but as guards. Anyone who keeps an alsatian in a small house is obviously keeping it as guard dog and not as a companion.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Would it not be difficult to ascertain whether an owner regarded his dog as a pet or as a guard dog? Could he not simply say that it was a pet and was entirely harmless?

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

I agree, but the Bill would provide that every house in which there was a dog should display a notice "Beware of the Dog". That would take care of both pets and guard dogs.

I said that 18 of my letters were abusive. The majority of the rest were about stray dogs. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) were to go round the derelict areas in his own city of Glasgow he would see hordes of dogs roaming the streets.

I have a letter from the secretary of a conservation society in the north-west of Glasgow in which he says that when coming home from work on his bicycle he was attacked five times in five miles. I have a letter from a lady who was pursued by a pack of stray dogs when she was riding her moped. Why are there so many stray dogs in Glasgow? It is because of the city's housing regulations. Many people who live in condemned houses in the twilight areas keep dogs to protect them from vandals. When they are allocated a new house, the corporation housing regulations forbid them to keep a dog in, for example, multi-storey flats, so the dog is usually put out before the removal. Packs of dogs are running around, foraging in dustbins, creating a mess and attacking people going about their duties.

I should like to see the licence fee increased, although that is not mentioned in the Bill. If all dogs had to have an identification, those which could not be identified would be looked upon as strays and taken off the streets.

We are rightly concerned about the number of tragedies which occur. We read in the newspapers about motor cars unaccountably going off the road, and unaccountable head-on collisions. Those of us who drive cars realise that the biggest menace on the road is the stray dog. It is in the interests of everyone, including dog lovers, that stray dogs should be rounded up and put down.

The byelaws which regulate the fouling of footpaths should be extended to playing fields, public parks and recreation grounds. Every morning I come through Holland Park, and I am disgusted at the way in which the paths are fouled by hundreds of dogs which are taken there for that purpose.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I have had my shoes fouled in that way, but what does the hon. Gentleman suggest? What are we to do? The animals have not been trained to do anything else.

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

There are regulations which impose a penalty on dog owners if their dogs foul the footpath. I see no reason why those regulations should not be extended to dogs which foul the paths, the grass and the flower beds in public parks.

A person is allowed to own a dog for six months before he needs to apply for a licence. I want that procedure to be reversed, so that a person will have to buy the licence before he purchases the dog. Old-age pensioners who have a pet as a companion might be exempted from the increased fee. The fee should be considerably increased so that measures can be taken to keep stray dogs off the street. I should like to increase the licence fee to at least £5.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has been persistent in his efforts to obtain legislation on stray dogs and guard dogs, and I congratulate him on introducing the Bill. I hope that it will be unopposed and have an easy passage through the House.

1.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

The sponsors of the Bill all represent Scottish constituencies, although interest in this subject crosses the Floor of the House. The problems which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) and Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) are not purely Scottish ones. Living in London as I do I am aware that it is a problem in all parts of the country and, no doubt, abroad.

The trouble with this subject is that it introduces a certain amount of levity. Everyone thinks it funny until it happens to him. I am reminded of a cartoon showing a little boy being presented with a Great Dane by his parents on his birthday. He looks at the dog and says to his parents "Is he for me, or am I for him?" That is a funny joke, but there have been many serious attack by dogs—attacks which were painful to the victims—and there is also a danger of infection.

I am doubtful about the efficacy of the notice "Beware of the Dog" specified in Clause 1. I have seen such notices in several places, no doubt affixed voluntarily by the people concerned. The display of notices might not solve the problem which the hon. Member for Dundee, West wishes to overcome. A person may affix such a notice, but it may be left there after the dog dies or is disposed of, with the result that people think that such notices do not necessarily mean that there is a dog in the house. The dog might be a small poodle which people would not regard as dangerous and, whether or not a notice is affixed, postmen and other callers would disregard it. I do not know what the notice will do, apart from giving a warning. Will callers have to take a cudgel with them to defend themselves if the dog becomes offensive?

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

The Bill states that the notice has to be in a prominent place, so so that it can be seen before the person enters the house or the grounds. The purpose of the notice is to let people know that they are running a risk. If they know that, they can make up their minds whether they want to run that risk.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it does not overcome the problem that, whether or not they are aware of the risk, the postman and the meter reader will have to go to the house regardless, although they would not go unprepared. In practice I have some doubts about the efficacy of such a notice. However, I do not oppose Clause 1.

I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Springburn said about the licence fee. The fee is ridiculously low, and I see no reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not regard an increase in the fee as desirable, both to increase his revenues and to reduce the hordes of unwanted dogs which roam every town and hamlet.

Dogs kept by farmers or crofters for their stock are exempt from the licence fee. If the fee were increased, anyone thinking of keeping a dog as a pet would have to make a serious decision. We read in the newspapers from time to time that when the holiday season comes round the police and the inspectors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are burdened with calls to collect and destroy stray dogs. People who can turn a dog out to fend for itself because they are going on holiday are unfit to have a dog. I am not a dog hater. I have had dogs myself, and I have never turned one out like that.

If the licence were fixed at a realistic figure—of course, there should be exemptions for pensioners—people wishing to keep a pet would have to make a serious decision, and the keeping of dogs would be confined to those who have proper regard for them and will look after their welfare. I support the call for local authorities to be given powers to do something about the situation.

There is no doubt that a guard dog charter is essential. We had the serious affair of the guard dog in Glasgow. A charter is essential, because the use of guard dogs is increasing. The crime rate is rising and the police are undermanned almost everywhere. People are tending more and more to use security agencies. It is essential that both guard dogs and their handlers should be licensed, and that the handlers should have full control of the dogs, in the interest of public safety. I should welcome such a charter. Clause 2 is essential in this context.

One omission from the Bill is a requirement which is really essential nowadays—that every dog should have an identification tag. Everyone should be able to find out who a dog's owner is. Only this week we have had a rabies scare. We have, fortunately, been free of rabies in this country, but with the incidence of smuggling pet dogs in so as to avoid quarantine, the risk is bound to result, some day, in rabies being introduced into the country. That would be to the great regret and detriment of dog lovers. It is essential to begin identification of all dogs at some stage.

I welcome the Bill and declare my support for it. It contains elementary safeguards which should have been provided long ago. The hon. Member for Dundee, West has done a useful service in bringing it forward, and I hope that it will quickly pass through the House.

1.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) on the Bill, and offer my general support. I have lived in cities all my life and have always felt that dogs in cities were out of their element. They should not be there—and not only for the many reasons that my hon. Friend adduced. It is not only that they foul the pavements. A week or so ago, I saw a man with a dog in the middle of the concourse at Victoria Station allowing it to perform its natural functions. He was a rather large man and I am rather small, so I did not attempt to argue with him. I thought that that offence might be followed by another and more serious offence if I attempted to remonstrate with him in my Liverpool fashion.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one becomes angry at such a thing. But what is the practical solution?

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

That is going through my mind. One of our aims must be to reduce the population of dogs in cities and make it more difficult for people to keep dogs idly. Many people who have dogs do not understand that they cause offence to many other people as well as being a nuisance, not only in the legal but in the aesthetic, and practical senses.

I am one of those with a physical allergy to dogs. I stayed at a friend's house and noticed that I came out in an unpleasant rash. It took a long time to get rid of it. Only by accident did I discover that it was caused by being in the same house as a dog. The dog was an inoffensive and rather affectionate beagle, and was not unpleasant. But I have no doubt that many other people are affected in the same way. Apart from the actual unpleasantness that the dogs cause, there are the physical effects about which we know very little. My hon. Friend talked about diseases. There is no doubt that diseases are transmitted from dogs to human beings and we do not know as much as we should about them.

My hon. Friend mentioned the physical effects not only in the streets but elsewhere. I used to live in Abbey Wood, and now I live in Battersea. They are both strictly urban communities, and both have a large number of dogs which cause a great deal of disgusting mess. In my constituency, there is a lot of common land—in Bostall Woods, Eltham Park, Shooter's Hill and Castle Woods, for example. That common land is infested with muck from dogs whose proud owners take them out every night.

One of our aims should be to reduce the dog population very considerably and create a situation in which most people would say that an urban area is not a place in which to keep dogs. I do not know what the dog population is.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

It seems to me that in certain parts the dogs are even more numerous than that. One is entitled to ask whether the country can sustain such a population of dogs, bearing in mind not only the mess they cause, the nuisance they are, the fear they inspire in children and among infirm people, but the uncontrolled way in which many of their owners allow them to behave, the noise they create at night, and the fact that so many of them are not kept under proper control and are allowed to roam the streets. In the countryside, an uncontrolled dog can cause immense havoc among sheep and other animals. We must consider all these aspects seriously. The dog population is too large. There is a place for dogs in our community, but not the large place that they occupy at the present time.

My hon. Friend talked about licences. One reason for our having so many stray dogs is that when a puppy grows up the owner may find that he cannot afford the licence fee of 7s. 6d. Many people buy a puppy for their child as a toy, and when the puppy grows up it is turned out because it is decided that they do not want to afford the licence fee. That animal then becomes one of the many stray dogs that are such a menace to drivers and many other members of our community. I have no doubt that if we were to increase the licence fee, as my hon. Friend has suggested, there would be an immense increase in the number of stray dogs.

One problem that we must face is policing.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there would be a policing problem initially and that once it was overcome the problem would settle down to a reasonable level?

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

I am not sure about that. My hon. Friend has mentioned the regulations that many local authorities impose. The effect is to forbid people keeping dogs in council houses or council flats. My own borough has that sort of regulation. I know that the rule is broken right, left and centre throughout the country. That sort of regulation cannot be policed. I have no doubt that if there were an increase in the licence fee many people would keep their dog without a licence. I have no doubt that many thousands of dog owners keep their pets and do not obtain a licence. Many people who live in council houses or flats are breaking the rules of the local authority by keeping a dog. It is a 10 to 1 chance that they are doing so, and in all probability they do not have a licence for their dogs, either. I do not know how we can set about proving that that is the position.

It seems that one of the major difficulties is the policing of the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands what I mean by that, namely, that there would be difficulty in ensuring that the regulations are operated. There is no doubt that in council estates and other communities in our constituencies—for example, large blocks of flats—dogs are an intolerable nuisance to people such as milkmen and many other members of the community.

The first clause refers to notices such as "Beware of the Dog". I think of my activities in my constituency. As usual, I was out last Sunday morning knocking on doors in my constituency. That is my usual practice. I go around knocking on doors not only during elections—in fact, I do not canvass so much during election—but between elections. If I were to see a gate with a notice which read "Beware of the Dog" I would be inclined to leave alone the constituent living in that house. If there were a proliferation of such notices it is reasonable to suppose that many of our constituents would not be called upon. Some of us are rather timid.

I have in mind one Sunday morning when I was canvassing with one of my daughters. In the garden of one house there was a dog which snarled viciously. Does anyone suppose that I was going to go up the path of that house with my young daughter? Only an idiot would have done so. That is a matter that we should bear in mind when we start thinking about notices. It is all very well for my hon. Friend to suggest that we should erect such notices, but what happens when people move? What happens when the dog dies, or the owner gets rid of it? That situation is rather like that which obtains when there is a notice which reads "Ring the Bell". In 99 cases out of 100 the bell does not work.

I was brought up in Liverpool, and the houses in my area had no bells. Further, there were no letter boxes, because the people received no letters. We did not need bells, as we knew everyone. The House will know what I mean when I say that we lived in the street. When I was a boy, if we wandered abroad and saw a notice which read "Ring the Bell" we could be depended upon to ring it. It was an open invitation.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) knows all about that. I can see the twinkle in his eye. I can see him, some 45 years ago, getting up to all sorts of mischief. In fact, he still gets up to mischief now and again.

I am not sure that having the sort of labels that we have been discussing will do much good. However, that is a point which can be discussed in Committee. Any inhibitions that we may have about particular aspects of the Bill provide no good reason for rejecting it. I believe that my hon. Friend has performed a useful service in introducing his Bill.

I wish him a fair wind.

Next, I turn to the question of guard dogs. Like working dogs in the country, they are in an entirely different category from pets. They are in the same category as a shepherd's dog or a farm dog. A farm dog is a working dog and not a pet and it is kept in the yard, where it belongs. It has its function to perform on the farm. Similarly, a guard dog has a job to do and needs to be trained for it. With the proliferation of various security organisations it seems that there is a great need for the training of guard dogs to be performed along proper lines. A register should be kept of the organisations concerned and of the dogs that they own. Rules and regulations should be laid down for their proper training and handling.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Gentleman has likened guard dogs to farm dogs. They are both working dogs. He suggests that there should be certain regulations for guard dogs, but what about farm dogs? Should there not be regulations for farm dogs?

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

Farm dogs are not quite the same as guard dogs. The farm dog represents centuries of tradition. We do not need to police farm dogs or dogs owned by shepherds. I suppose that it could be said that we should first catch the shepherd. The idea is not on of "bobbies" tramping the moors of Scotland or the moors of Yorkshire looking for a shepherd in order to see that his dog is properly trained. We know that that is not necessary.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman says about shepherds looking after their dogs, and his comments about farm dogs. They are working dogs. Surely the same principle applies to individuals who own guard dogs. They are working dogs and their owners have established the tradition of looking after the dog properly and training it in the same way as the farm dog.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

Not entirely. The hon. Gentleman will understand that guard dogs in warehouses, for example, in urban areas are in an entirely different physical environment. By the very nature of things they are amongst people. They are in an urban environment guarding a shop, warehouse or building site. There are bound to be many people in the vicinity.

There are different conditions. From my experience problems have arisen because dogs or their handlers have not been properly trained. I have been approached by representatives of some security firms about the lack of training for handlers and dogs. I know that they would welcome some sort of regulation. The urban situation is quite different from that which has grown up over the centuries on the farms. We do not need to police farmers. The hon. Gentleman knows what would happen.

There is good reason for welcoming that part of the Bill which relates to guard dogs. I support any attempt to control the proliferating dog population. I do not want to deprive someone of a companion, or affect the work of guide dogs, for example, but there is undoubtedly a growing nuisance, which ought to be controlled. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence.

2.0 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I must admit, even though all the speeches that have so far been made have been favourably inclined towards this Bill, I still have something of a split mind on this subject. I do not regard this as a hilarious matter. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) suggested that dogs were an amusing subject. I do not think so. Even if anyone were inclined to treat this as an hilarious matter they would soon be brought back to earth by the prospect that they might find themselves sitting on the Committee which will examine the Bill. That is a serious matter.

Until recently this debate has been like a meeting of the Scottish Standing Committee. One or two hon. Members from England have now joined us. I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Dundee, West, yet it is extraordinary how often we have crossed swords and found ourselves on opposite sides in argument. That does not detract from the high feelings and the high regard which I have for the hon. Member and his public-spiritedness in raising this matter. I hope he will not think me ungracious when I say that I felt he skated over one or two points in the Bill on the ground that they could be discussed in Committee.

It is always a good thing to deal with as much as possible on Second Reading, particularly when we have time. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is considering replying to the debate, with the leave of the House. If not, it means that we shall not get a proper reply from the sponsor. It is no good the hon. Member pointing to the Minister. He is a nobody in this debate. He is not replying; he is merely intervening.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order for me to reply to the debate?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

With the leave of the House, yes.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

In that case I will reply.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That will help some of us who have doubts on this subject. Several hon. Members have spoken of dogs as being fundamentally dangerous animals. The hon. Member for Dundee, West will probably think that I am one of those doggie people who think that dogs can do no wrong. This is not so. I have rarely found dogs dangerous. I do not think that they are dangerous. I often wonder whether it is a case of real danger or whether it is a case of, le chien est mechant; quand on l'attaque, il se defend", which I can translate as "This dog is naughty. When you attack it it defends itself."

If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) had plucked up enough courage to go up that path where he saw the dog snarling he would have discovered one of two things. If he had gone up in a sneaky way as if he were a thief, the dog would have been at his heels immediately. If he had gone up in a robust way—which I admit that, with the feeling that he had for the dog, would have been difficult, if not impossible—he would have found that the dog would have responded. A lot depends on how the dog is treated. If it is accepted as being a part of life, it will leave a person alone. It may do a little sniffing.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Greenwich Woolwich West

I hope that the hon. Member will not forget that I had a young child with me. In such circumstances one is fearful for the child and bears in mind its nervousness.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I accept that. I was only using that as an example. Often dogs respond to the treatment they receive. On the other hand, and this may encourage the hon. Member for Dundee, West, I have some sympathy with him in that I am not entirely a doggie man, on the side of the dogs and the angels. I do not know whether any other hon. Members have been bitten by a dog. I have had that experience. At the time I was wearing only a bathing suit. One feels particularly exposed—

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

—to a dog when one is wearing a bathing suit. This wretched animal came up from behind. Although I did all the things I thought I ought to, the animal nevertheless persisted and took a bit out of my ankle. I would not have minded that very much—it did not really hurt—but I was afraid to run away, because that makes dogs go on. So I walked on in stately fashion while the animal took some flesh out of me. I would not have minded that if it had happened in this country but it happened in Italy. I was far more afraid that the animal might have rabies. It was a fairly remote place and I had a great deal of difficulty in finding a doctor.

I do not suggest that dogs never bite. I wonder what is the best way of dealing with the practical problems which are raised. This Bill deals with two kinds of dog, the private dog and what we might call the public, or the working, dog. Roaming dogs are not included in the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman, who has been fortunate in the Ballot, recognises that there is a problem with regard to dogs. However, I think he has missed an opportunity, since working dogs and dogs in private houses form only a small section of the dog population and are not the most dangerous dogs. The roaming dogs are the most dangerous.

I know the city of Glasgow fairly well, although I know my own constituency best since I was brought up there and have represented it for a number of years. However, I have never seen dogs roaming in packs in my constituency. I have never received a letter from a constituent complaining about dogs roaming in the streets. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to give facts about dogs roaming the streets which are a danger to our citizens. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) quoted the instance of a constituent riding a moped, which can be a frightening machine because of the noise it makes. Dogs may attack such machines and their riders, but that is not the same thing as dogs roaming the streets and putting ordinary citizens in fear of their lives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider inserting into the Bill a provision to deal with the problem of roaming dogs. The Minister presumably has the relevant facts and figures.

Why do these dogs roam? Perhaps they have been abandoned by their owners. Owners have a duty to prevent their dogs from roaming. This aspect has come out in today's debate, and we could improve the Bill if we inserted an additional clause to deal with the problem.

Under Clause 1(1) a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog" will have to be displayed in a prominent place. I do not understand the reason for that provision, because such a notice will not serve any purpose except to let people know that a dog is on the premises. However, that dog may not necessarily be dangerous. There might be some point in putting up a notice where the owner knows that his dog has a history of nervousness and of running after strangers. However, to force every owner of every dog to display such a notice seems to be going too far.

The hon. Gentleman must know that in Dundee there is not a large number of villas with gardens where "Beware of the Dog" notices would be appropriate. Many people live in flats. Where will such notices be displayed in blocks of flats? Will they be displayed on the tenants' front doors, or in the main entrances?

Is it seriously suggested that every farmer must display a "Beware of the Dog" notice? If so, where will that be displayed? Very often farms are served by small roads which are rarely used since most visitors go round the back. In such cases, where will the notices be displayed? We need guidance on that aspect. The notices will be ugly. In a block of flats a dozen or more notices might be displayed, all of different designs.

To a certain extent the Bill is offensive to owners of animals. We are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers. Although not all animals are loving, particularly if they bite, we do not want to press the animal-loving fraternity too far.

It has been said that this Bill has the support of the RSPCA. Such support is valuable. However, we do not wish, by introducing unnecessary measures, to stimulate an animal-lover backlash, of which there may be a considerable danger.

I do not know how much publicity this Bill has received. The hon. Gentleman said that he had received several hundred letters. However, there may be further letters from opponents of the Bill. They may come from animal lovers who are not kindly disposed to putting up notices saying "Beware of the Dog".

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should insert in the Bill a provision to deal with roaming dogs. Perhaps he might consider deleting Clause 1, or at least modifying it, so that it does not apply to all dogs, and certainly not those in the countryside. The provision should apply only to dogs which are believed to be dangerous.

I agree with what the hon. Members for Springburn and Woolwich, West said on the question of dogs fouling the pavements, but there does not seem to be anything about it in the Bill. There is more feeling on this than there is perhaps on any other aspect. If this is to be a dogs' charter Bill, cannot we also make it a pedestrians' charter Bill? I am a governor of a school, and the way in which people allow their dogs to use the playing fields as public lavatories is abominable. The boys play football on the fields and one can imagine the mess that they get into.

It is no good complaining about the way in which people take their dogs into public parks and even on to stations, because we cannot control nature. But if the Bill is to be made satisfactory an obligation should be placed on local authorities to provide spaces in the parks where this natural function can be performed without any damage resulting. When I was a Minister at the Scottish Office I was worried greatly by the way in which refuse was littered about the country. I thought that local authorities should provide places to which people could take their rubbish and dump it. The local authority will not take it away. The Bill would receive considerable backing from the public if a provision to this effect were included in it.

The schedule provides in paragraph 1: Every owner of a guard dog and every handler of a guard dog shall be of good character. What does that mean? Does it matter whether the person is of good character or not? The important consideration is whether he is good in dog handling. He may be a thoroughly bad character. Yet the hon. Member for Springburn said he thought this provision was important. I do not think it is important, but there may be some reason behind it of which I am unaware.

There is another strange aspect of the Bill. Clause 3(2) provides for the inspection of premises in which guard dogs are kept. That is an excellent idea. But why only guard dogs? The hon. Member for Woolwich, West referred to parents who bought dogs for their children as if they were toys without having regard to where they would be kept or how they would be looked after.

The Bill is muddled. It begins with the question of safety. Then it deals with what I call the health aspect and the character of the handler. Those two matters have nothing to do with the question of safety, and yet I thought that the object of the Bill was to protect the public from being damaged. The provision about the inspection of premises where guard dogs are kept should apply much more widely.

The hon. Gentleman advocates the tattooing of dogs. Is not that cruel? Can it be done without imposing pain on the animal? I realise why the hon. Gentleman advocates it. Far too many dogs are roaming about and nobody knows to whom they belong. Cows have tags in their ears. Perhaps dogs should be treated in a similar fashion.

That leads me to the question of licences. I have a split mind on this matter. It is quite wrong that people should have to pay a fee for a dog but not a cat. I do not know whether one must pay a fee for a horse, but I do not think so. Why should the owners of dogs be penalised in this way? Presumably the practice started in order to raise money. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us how much money the Government receive from dog licences and the cost of administering them. Is the system self-supporting? Does it produce much revenue for the Treasury? It the licence fee were increased—and I should be opposed to that; I would much rather see it abolished—there would have to be reductions or rebates for old-age pensioners.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider the question of penalties. A fine of £400 would be excessive, and imprisonment for three years is completely out of step with what is required.

In some respects I support the hon. Member for Dundee, West. In other respects I am doubtful about the validity of what he is trying to do. It will be achieved only at great administrative cost, and the country is already groaning under the weight of too much administration. When anything goes wrong it is immediately said "Have a licence. Register it. Carry out examinations." So the proposal is that animals shall be examined, that there shall be registration, and that there must be licences from local authorities. It will all involve great extra administrative cost.

I do not believe that this is necessary in the case of guard dogs. As the hon. Member for Woolwich, West said, dog handlers are professional people who have working dogs and it is in their interests to see that their dogs are properly trained and looked after. There is no more need for us to legislate in respect of guard dogs than there is for us to legislate in respect of sheep dogs.

Where I am at one with the hon. Gentleman is on the very point that is not in the Bill. I think the danger arises from roaming dogs, and I should like him to consider whether action can be taken there.

2.30 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I begin by declaring my credentials. I have had a lot of field experience in the last few weeks. Last Friday week I was dealing with the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Bill. Last Wednesday I was dealing with mad dogs under the Rabies Order, in Committee. Today we seem to be dealing with bad dogs, or at any rate bad guard dogs.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) seems to have caused something of a dispute by his Bill. Several hon. Members on the Government side seem to be rather anti-dog in one way or another. It seemed to be different on this side of the House. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is a dog lover, but I do not think he is a lover of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the working party which is examining not only this question but much wider questions of the control of dogs generally. What effect is any Government action likely to have on the Bill?

As I understand it, apart from the general complaints about dogs, which are entirely irrelevant to the Bill, the Bill arises out of two unpleasant cases—one in Glasgow and another in Islington. Following that, a countrywide police inquiry was launched by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling).

My right hon. Friend made a statement on 24th June 1971 in which he said that during 1970, which was the year under examination, 200 people were bitten by guard dogs. The statement did not make it clear that 3,314 people were bitten by ordinary dogs. So this is not a problem which affects guard dogs only. Only seven out of the 200 bites by guard dogs were serious. Three-quarters of the number of guard dog bites were made by dogs which did not have handlers. Those figures may put the matter slightly more into perspective, in that the trouble caused by guard dogs seems to be comparatively small.

There has been a lot of criticism of Clause 1 which will provide for the displaying of a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog". This confuses what I believe must be the hon. Gentleman's objective in bringing the Bill forward. The Bill is to do with guard dogs and not with pets. It is to do with commercial premises, not with homes. Bringing in the question of having a notice on private dwellings with the words "Beware of the Dog" simply drags a red herring across the trail.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West, told a story of someone going round canvassing who was forced up on to a table by an alsatian dog.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

This person was a corporation official going round to check the voters' roll. He was not canvassing.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

When the hon. Member for Dundee, West next goes out canvassing and tries to push his message through a letterbox he should not be too deterred by muffled snarling noises, because it might not be a dog the other side of the door.

One of the difficulties which arise about any requirement to display such notices is that the occupier of premises may not be the owner of the premises. The owner may impose a requirement that no notices shall be displayed outside the premises, so there could be a legal difficulty.

Further, people are unwilling to display such notices outside their houses, because such a notice advertises that there is a dog there, perhaps a valuable dog, and the chances of having it stolen will be that much greater.

If a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog" is displayed, is not that almost an admission that an offence may occur, that there is an animal on the premises, of which one must beware as it is likely to be dangerous? By displaying such a notice is not one putting oneself in the wrong from the word "go"? To use such words would simply devalue the use of the words and devalue the law.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look seriously at Clause 1. It is irrelevant in a Bill which otherwise would do some sensible things. It will put up the backs of many people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead said, it is likely to cause an animal lover backlash. The retribution from such a backlash can be absolutely terrible, as the hon. Gentleman may occasionally have experienced when animal legislation has come before the House.

As for Clause 2 which deals with registration and licensing, I understand that the major security companies would like to see these provisions promulgated and are happy about the clause.

As for Clause 3, which will provide for a guard dogs charter, I think that the hon. Member said that it was something to do with the Alsatians League. I believe that it is also in accordance with something which the Home Office had in mind and which was originally drafted by the Chief Constable of Surrey, who undertook the original inquiry, but if this goes forward it may be necessary to have more details.

Paragraph 2 of the charter says: Every guard dog shall have a handler. The security firms—I know that this applies particularly to Securicor—never let a guard dog loose in an enclosed place or compound without a handler. If such dogs are on their own, completely isolated in compounds, and perhaps visited once a day to be fed, it makes them dangerous and savage, and it is cruel to them. The 20 members of the British Security Industries Association certainly do not allow this practice to take place.

Perhaps the Minister will also look at Section 5(3) of the Animals Act 1971, which covers the position of owners of dogs if a trespasser comes on to premises. This subsection lays down that the owner is not liable for damage caused to the trespasser if he is keeping the dog there for the protection of persons or property and that keeping it there for that purpose is "not unreasonable". The phrase not unreasonable" has been widely criticised. If a Bill is coming forward to deal with the question of dogs, perhaps the point can be looked at as well.

In considering the whole problem, one finds that whereas some security firms abide by certain rules and codes of practice, many others do not. This raises the question whether there ought to be more control of these firms. This is a small corner of what is becoming a big problem, and we have heard a lot today about various aspects of the problem. I certainly would not be happy for this Bill to become law in its present form, and the hon. Member for Dundee, West would be well advised to withdraw Clause 1 if he wants the Bill to go forward. Apart from that, we have had a useful opportunity of airing the matter.

2.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

The House should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) on his diligence in pursuing this matter in which there is great public interest. I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject and I can well understand his enthusiasm for ensuring that something is done about it.

I do not know whether, as a dog owner, I should declare an interest in this subject. It is an interest which I share with the Prime Minister, as I have a golden labrador. In spite of that, I hope that I can consider this matter objectively.

I am well aware of the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) arising from the incident in Glasgow last year. It occurred in an area which used to be in my constituency, although it is now in Springburn.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who made a very constructive and thoughtful speech, for the fact that a Scottish Minister is replying to the debate. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I though that, as the Bill was sponsored by a Scottish Member, and in view of the incident last year in Scotland, it would be appropriate that a Scottish Minister should reply to the debate.

I should like to tell my hon. Friend what the Government have been doing and are considering doing in connection with this matter. In reply to Questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for the Home Department have devised and issued a code of practice governing the use of guard dogs. This was done after consultation with the interested parties. I am not clear what consultations my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has had, or proposes to have, with the organisations concerned if the Bill should be allowed to proceed.

I had the impression from one or two speakers in the debate that they were not aware that there is now a code of practice relating to the use of guard dogs. This code has emerged after consultation with the police, the British security industry and a number of dog welfare organisations, and, although it is a voluntary code of practice, it nevertheless has the backing of responsible organisations. It covers many of the points which are in the guard dogs charter" in the schedule to the Bill.

The code of practice suggests that any person or organisation providing dogs for security purposes for hire or reward shall keep a register, readily available, of all dogs, and in that register the details of each dog shall be recorded; that a log book shall be kept of all hirings and shall include the names of dogs and their handlers, who should be adequately insured against all claims; that no dog shall be used for security purposes unless it is fully and properly trained to such a standard that it can be kept under adequate control at all times. In addition, reference is made to the health and welfare of the dogs, which should be accompanied by suitable handlers.

This is the kind of positive action that the Government have already taken in bringing out this code of practice which we commend. It is not in conflict with many of the aims and objectives of my hon. Friend's Bill, but I mention it because it is something that the Government have already done.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

What the hon. Gentleman has said is very interesting but he said that this code had been issued after consultation with the police and various responsible bodies. I should like to know the extent to which people who have guard dogs feel bound by these voluntary regulations.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

One can never have any guarantee about that. All I am saying is that this code of practice has been drawn up and has the support of the main security organisations. In the interests of their own reputation as responsible firms, they will set the standard in complying with a code of practice to which they have been party in drawing up. Of course, the dogs have not been consulted! However, there is a reasonable assumption that this provision is adequate and will receive the backing of the main organisations involved.

There is a working party which covers the wider issue; it has been set up to consider general problems posed by dogs, and many of the points made in the debate come within the scope of the terms of reference of this working party. It is under the chairmanship of a representative of the Department of the Environment. Obviously, the Scottish Office is involved with the working party. It was established for different reasons, to fulfil an undertaking given in the course of the passage of the Control of Pollution Act. In other words, it is not concerned merely with dogs biting people. It covers the whole range of problems involving dogs and associated problems, including pollution.

Since that working party may report this year—that is the kind of time scale that we have in mind—my hon. Friend will appreciate that by that time we shall have had experience of the code of practice relating to guard dogs.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to the wider aspects of the problem of dogs. One must admit that there are too many stray dogs. I shall not define a roaming dog, but I think it is well understood and appreciated that, unfortunately, there are far too many dogs which do not seem to belong to anybody. That is an aspect of the subject that concerns many people in many parts of the country. The comprehensive consideration of the problems associated with dogs, including guard dogs, by the working party will be the best basis for any possible future legislation, and that is part of the purpose of having a working party.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

It would be helpful to know whether that means that the Government are considering introducing legislation.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

Yes, obviously. That was the intention of setting up the working party, but it would depend on the recommendations. The Government set up a working party not to avoid the problem but to examine it, and it is a fair assumption that some kind of recommendations for legislation will result.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

Does that mean that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) will be withdrawing his Bill, or will it be taken over by Government legislation?

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

That is a matter for my hon. Friend. It will be some time before the working party's report emerges. All I am saying is that my hon. Friend would be well advised to keep in mind the possibility of some kind of recommendations requiring legislation with which his ideas could be associated.

We have shown that it is our view that there are problems associated with guard dogs that deserve to be considered with sympathy. In spite of what I have said about the code of practice, there is a genuine problem, and the Government are aware of that, as of the pubilc concern about the incident of last year.

I have a great regard for the knowledge and experience—I am sorry that this sounds like a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee—of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn. Both have given years of service in local government as city treasurers and as magistrates, and they understand these matters better than most. My hon. Friend the Member for Spring-burn demonstrated his persistence in a Statutory Instruments Standing Committee on Wednesday—this is a reverse of the situation today—when he showed a remarkable capacity to grasp detail. I believe that he is allowing his emotions to run away with him and is not looking with sufficient detail at some of the defects of the Bill.

I say that as a compliment, for it is not like my hon. Friend not to have noticed the defects, and I am not talking about drafting defects. For instance, I find that Clause 1, imposing a fine of £400 or imprisonment for three years for not displaying a notice, is frightening, and I say that not because I am a dog owner. Where would this notice be? Would it be at the close mouth—I hope that I do not have to translate or require the services of an interpreter for the benefit of English and Welsh colleagues who may be present? Would a notice "Beware of the Dog" be at the mouth of the close? In parts of my constituency, the local authority has a big enough job ensuring that the numbers are on the closes, never mind notices saying "Beware of the Dog".

Would it be an offence not to display the notice if, for example, someone came to live temporarily in the house bringing a dog with him? Would it be an offence if a dog owner occupied the house for a holiday period and did not display a notice? I have a great respect for my hon. Friend's grasp of detail and practicality, but this is a woolly clause, and, however commendable the aims of the Bill, the community would be unlikely to accept a clause with such fines.

There are other deficiencies. Clause 2 imposes a duty to be registered and licensed. That seems to be duplication Some of the requirements that flow from Clause 3, whihc contains the dog charter have not been thought out properly. Who would make the inspection? Who would decide the good character of the applicant?

It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). When he said that he had no knowledge of dogs roaming about Hillhead, I was tempted to say that some of his constituents would say that he should go there more often and find out. That is a sort of local joke, as I know he appreciates. It is provided that people who apply for the licence of a public house or betting shop have to have a good character. However, as the hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out, one of the best people at handling dogs may be a poacher with a string of convictions.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Member suggests that I do not know what is going on in my own constituency, but I often roam my constituency. However, if I take off all my clothes, as I did on the occasion I have mentioned when a dog bit me, how will my constituents know that I am there, for I should then look like an ordinary person? I should like the hon. Member to withdraw his insinuation that I do not know what is going on in my own constituency.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I am not suggesting that the hon. Member should streak about his constituency. If he did, I am sure that no dog would suspect him of being a bitch in heat, or anything like that.

Seriously I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about good character. Someone may have a natural gift and talent for training dogs but have been in all sorts of doubtful activities that have nothing to do with that ability. There are other features that make the Bill undesirable in its present form.

My hon. Friend and his supporters have achieved a good deal in drawing the attention of the House to the need for some kind of legislation. I think that I have demonstrated that there is no complacency on the part of the Government. We have shown our concern about the problem and about the need for speed by setting up the working party, and I am sure that we shall be acquitted of any complacency.

It would be extremely helpful if my hon. Friend would consider withdrawing his Bill. He has much support for his basic intentions. I do not suggest that we should vote against the Bill, but I hope that my hon. Friend will regard this debate as having been a valuable exercise in drawing attention to a problem that concerns all of us, the Government included. We await the findings and recommendations of the working party so that together we can make a job of eradicating a development that worries us all.

2.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

I have no intention of withdrawing the Bill. One does not wait for the outside chance of introducing a Private Member's Bill only to withdraw it, without receiving assurances of any kind. I should be very foolish if I were to withdraw the Bill at this stage.

The objections from both Front Benches appear to centre on Clause 1. I said in my opening speech, and I repeat, that if the Committee which considers the Bill feels that Clause 1 should be withdrawn I shall be happy to withdraw it. That is a decision which should be taken by the Committee which considers the Bill in detail. It is not a decision which I should make off the cuff without consulting any of the other sponsors of the Bill.

The Minister queried the provision about the posting of a notice and asked whether, in a tenement, it would be on the door or at the bottom of the building. The Bill makes the position clear. The notice has to be put on the door of the premises concerned. That does not mean at the end of the close, as the Minister put it. It means on the door of the person's house. If there is a dog in one house in a tenement the notice must be on the door of that house. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), let me say that in the country the notice has to be at the entrance to the grounds of the house.

The Minister asked what the position would be about a visitor who had a dog. The same rule would apply. The danger arises from the moment the dog arrives on the premises. It matters not whether the dog is there for a day, a week or a month. People must be warned of the danger. If dangerous machinery is installed in a factory and it requires a notice warning people that it is dangerous, it does not matter whether it is there for a day, a week or a month. The warning has to be given whenever the danger is present, and that is what I am saying should apply to dogs.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) said that we seem to be anti-dog. I do not know where he got that idea from, because it is not borne out by the facts. He gave the number of people bitten as 2,000 by guard dogs, and 3,000 by others.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The number of people bitten by guard dogs was just over 200. Those bitten by ordinary dogs numbered 3,314.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

I do not query the 200 bitten by guard dogs, but I do query the 3,314, because the figures issued by the Post Office of postmen severely bitten by dogs exceeds that number. Clearly, that figure is grossly wrong. Even the figure issued by the Post Office is underplayed. In my city a careful record is kept of people bitten by dogs, and the figure is more than 3,000 a year. I asked the Post Office about its figures, and I was told that only the serious cases are reported. But the figure still exceeds that given by the hon. Gentleman for the whole of Britain, and I think I must ask him to check the source of his information and get more reliable figures.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel David Mather Lieut-Colonel David Mather , Esher

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the figures I quoted are issued by the Home Department.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

In that case, the Home Department had better check with the Post Office because, according to its figures, only postmen are bitten, which of course is not true, as everybody knows.

The hon. Member for Esher said that the Bill is about guard dogs. That is largely true, but it does cover other dogs. I see no reason why we should lay down stringent rules only for guard dogs, which, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, are not the most dangerous. If only 200 people are bitten by guard dogs, as against the much larger number bitten by other dogs, why confine the Bill to a tiny part of the problem? That is what he is asking me to do. He wants me to keep in the Bill only that part which deals with guard dogs, but I repeat that only 200 people are bitten by guard dogs, while 3,314 are bitten by others.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

Other hon. Members wish to get on to other subjects, and I do not propose to give way. The hon. Gentleman has intervened in every speech during this debate, and I have answered most of his points.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

Order. That is a matter for the Chair and not for the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I have already had a word with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) about it. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, West should bedevil this debate with it.

Photo of Mr Peter Doig Mr Peter Doig , Dundee West

I was merely trying to explain why I did not intend to give way again to the hon. Member for Hillhead.

We had a far-fetched theory from the hon. Member for Esher that people might be reluctant to display notices saying "Beware of the Dog" because they could lead to their dogs being stolen.

The hon. Member for Hillhead asked a series of questions. In fairness to other hon. Members hoping to introduce Private Members' Bills, I do not think I should spend time answering them all. However, there are one or two matters which I must put to him.

He argued that anyone appearing to attack a dog should not be surprised if it responded. However, I remind him that the tragic death of a young boy in Glasgow happened to the very boy who was not afraid of dogs. He loved dogs, but he was the one who was killed. All the others got away because they were scared. The hon. Gentleman's theory hardly stands up to examination. What is more, I could tell him about a great many other cases.

The hon. Gentleman said that roaming dogs were more dangerous than privately-owned dogs. Again, that is not true. One has only to look at the figures of the victims of packs of roaming dogs to see that they are fewer in number than the victims who enter houses where dogs are kept and subsequently are bitten.

I am trying to work on the safety angle all the way through the Bill. I am trying to prevent the dangers to people from dogs and to concentrate on what are the greatest dangers as far as I know them. That is why all these other matters are not in the Bill. If hon. Members want them included, there is nothing to stop them tabling new clauses to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).