Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
At some time in our childhood or in our adulthood we have probably all been terrified by a dog that has not been under control. As politicians the most fearful experience that we can have during canvassing in an election is suddenly to find a huge dog hurling itself towards us from the back of a house: or from somewhere else. As a dog lover, I put that down to a difference in political views between the dog and myself.
They are usually intelligent, so I would not categorise them as Tories entirely. However, it is a frightening experience. It is even more worrying when packs of dogs are running wild. This sometimes occurs on school playing fields. It takes only one small incident to set off one of those dogs, or several of them, and the result is injury to a child, or a number of children.
It is society's duty to protect the public from the dog owners who should be responsible for them. Every dog lover is appalled by the cruelty that is involved in buy [rig pups at Christmas time only for them to be jettisoned on motorways throughout the country or thrown out to fend for themselves. In controlling dogs we are acting as much in the animal's interest as in the person's interest.
A much more serious issue is the control of rabies. Governments of both parties have taken far too casual an attitude to the potential danger. It is only a matter of time before rabies spreads to the United Kingdom. Since the war it has spread from Poland to the Channel. It is a serious issue that must be considered at Government level.
Having accepted the need to control dogs, we must accept that it is the irresponsible owner that we must control primarily and not the stray dog. The feature about the Bill that worries me is that it seems that the cost of looking after and controlling dogs is being placed more and more on the responsible owner who will look after his dog in any event. It is a fairly responsible owner who buys a licence in the first place.
My second worry stems from the idea of leaving licensing to local authorities. That will lead to differential rates between authorities. For various reasons certain authorities may want to use the dog licence to deter dog ownership and not to control dogs. That will work against both irresponsible and responsible owners.
It appears that we are being asked to consider a self-financing scheme. Often those who need dogs are the old, those who live alone and those who are not especially well off. Financial control will act against those of limited financial means. That does not apply only to old-age pensioners. The dog licence should be centrally imposed and centrally administered. It might be sensible to increase the cost of the licence, but we must consider the effect on those who need dogs. Although we may be able to identify dogs and to license them, we are not able to deal with vandals in the same way. Many of the older people in my constituency wish to keep dogs because they fear the muggings and the attacks from which society is unable to protect them.
When we talk about financial means of control, we must remember that there are many who like dogs and want dogs. If dog wardens are to be given powers to deal with dogs that foul footpaths, society must provide places for owners to exercise their dogs. In some parks or playing fields the danger comes not only from dogs, but from horses and so on. Given that some control may be necessary, we must look at the other side of the coin. We all agree that there is a need to control dogs. However, control must be imposed in particular on unscrupulous dealers who sell dogs for a profit.
Generally, I support the Bill. I have some reservations and I have mentioned them to the House. However, before supporting the Bill in the Lobby, I should like those points to be clarified.
My pedigree as a dog lover is well established. Even my car is called Rover. The breed lasts well, although it has been somewhat thinned over the years. I even come from the only constituency to have founded a breed of dogs, the Jack Russell. They were founded by the Rev. Jack Russell, vicar of Swimbridge, near Barnstaple. My family has always favoured wire fox terriers. Indeed, in relation to the fear expressed by the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young), I should point out that my late mother—who kept wire fox terriers all her life—was never bothered by burglars, nor, for that matter, by postmen or milkmen.
A dog can be a guard or companion, but it can also be a nuisance to other members of the community. We must strike a balance between the absolute freedom to own and love a pet and the absolute obligation to the rest of the community, who may not love and honour the pet in the same way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) has produced a modest Bill. It should have been much more comprehensive, and I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) when she said that we needed a larger and more detailed Bill. I suspect that this Bill was proposed in the hope that it would have more success, but I fear that even this modest aspiration may not be realised.
Misconceptions about dogs abound. To town dwellers, "sheep worrying" conjures up something like the hound of the Baskervilles, tearing the throat out of a ewe. However, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, more damage is done by sheep worrying in which a tooth or paw is never laid on the beast. In our part of the world sheep are often worried by a pet poodle belonging to someone from Putney or Pudsey that escapes from the car and finds big woolly creatures, which we know as sheep and which jump and run and are fun to chase. That is why we need regulations. I entirely support the National Farmers Union. We cannot allow a metropolitan regulation of dogs, which may clean our footpaths but does not save the countryside. Indeed, the NFU thinks in much higher figures than those quoted earlier. It thinks that there may have been about 100, 000 instances in which animals have been chivvied and chased, although not necessarily killed. At this time of the year the abortion rate among breeding ewes can be economically frightening, and, in addition, the blizzards of recent months may have weakened the breeding stock.
The Bill is modest and I regret that on its way to proclaim its modesty it is covered with more and more clothes and is less exposed to detail and fact. I regret that it does not cover working dogs. Exeter and Leamington Spa are the two main centres for guide dog training. It is well known that guide dogs cannot be used until they are well over the six-month age limit, at which a licence is needed. A dog is selected, trained, walked and then finally trained. In Committee, we must make allowance for guide dogs throughout their existence. In addition, there have always been agricultural exemptions for working dogs and these must be maintained.
It is illogical to expect those who show and breed animals to share in individual licensing. Given the movement in the dog population, we shall end up with something like the vehicle registration centre at Swansea several months or a year behind with the transfer of top breed dogs that are moved from owner to owner. Therefore, we must consider a measure that is a little wider than at present. In my part of the country hunt kennels form an important part of the community. We get a far bigger turnout at the local hunt than at the local football match and the sport is usually better. There is no doubt that kennels and breeders must also be given exemption from individual licensing.
It may seem strange to pass from Exmoor and sheep breeding to urban streets, but I should like to quote from someone who played an important part in my formative years. Christopher Robin said:
Whenever I walk in a London street, I'm ever so careful to watch my feet.
I seem to remember that Christopher Robin was afraid of bears and of stepping on the lines, but I walk the streets near my London flat and unless I am careful my shoes become fouled. My constituency is both agricultural and seaside. I am well aware that if one child is fouled by dog dirt that may be the last time that the family will visit a seaside resort.
If the Government are not enthusiastic about the Bill they should bear in mind that electors are. Our postbags are full of complaints about the lack of control, dogs that chase sheep and so on. Everything that hon. Members have said is mentioned by constituents in their letters and those letters fill the postbags of all hon. Members. It would be an unwise Government who were seen to be against sensible and modest legislation.
The Bill places the power where it should logically lie, not at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said, has the power to specify the licence fee but with the local district council. The council should decide what form of service it needs and should then levy a fee that will cover it without subsidising the rate or being subsidised by it.
I shall not give way as I have a great fear of giving way to barristers even when they are on a free loan service.
The Bill does not say whether the service should be full or part time. Indeed, there is no reason why it should. In rural areas such as mine, a good service could be run at a reasonable price, using a part-time warden service. In a metropolitan area, the needs would be different. This measure merely asks local authorities to take over the service. There are many odd byelaws—I use the word "odd" advisedly, because too many separate measures affect the dog community—and it is time that they were cleared up and consolidated in one piece of legislation.
When we discussed the drafts of the Bill at great length, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and I realised that it was impossible for Back-Bench Members to enact such legislation. However, it would be a great shame if even this small measure did not succeed.
It is inevitable that a dog or a cat or other pet rushing across the road causes braking, swerving, accidents and damage. We do not try to legislate for the cat. Perhaps we should legislate for all household pets that have access to thoroughfares, but it is more likely that dogs will cause such accidents. Therefore, this measure will mop up the stray dog which may or may not attack sheep, but are likely to distract the motorist.
Those of us whose refuse is collected in black, normally torn, plastic sacks are well aware that the tears are usually caused by stray dogs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, this may also be caused in part by the increasing fox population in urban areas. They probably come to the urban areas because they know their fate if they stay in rural areas. When we talk about the problems of refuse collection, we must include all the factors, such as the stray dog and the careless owner. If the owner is not careful he should be liable but if the owner cannot be traced he cannot be made liable. However, the State also has a responsibility. If the owner has paid a fair and reasonable licence fee, it is sensible and logical that the dog-catching service should look for his pet if it has escaped or gone astray, as can happen when a dog is in season, as my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said earlier.
Much legislation is forced upon local authorities which, in effect, say "You ask us to cut our coat and then you take away more and more of the cloth". However, the House will be interested to learn that the Devon Association of Parish Councils wrote to me asking me to support the Bill. The administrative secretary said:
On the Association's behalf, therefore, and after consultation with the Chairman, I am writing to urge you to support the Dogs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill".
The district councils will have to do the work but cannot make a profit from it. The Devon county branch of the Association of District Councils wrote to me and said:
I therefore seek your support for the second reading…which is due to take place this Friday…This Bill, whilst not
perfect, goes a long way to meeting two objectives:—To remove the anomaly of a dog licence fee which costs three times as much to collect as it raises in revenue".
That fact was confirmed in the volume of Hansard published this morning. In answer to a question from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), the Treasury claimed that the collection cost was £3 million while the revenue was £1 million. The second point made by the association was that the Bill should
place responsibility for dogs with local authorities with explicit powers to run dog warden schemes.
I could not possibly go through the vast range of answers that we received from a series of questions published in my local newspaper, the North Devon Journal-Herald. We asked those questions, not just so that the public could say "I suppose so" but so that they could make their own proposals. The questions were fairly simple, and the answers that I give were from the North Devon public. More than 400 people answered in one week.
The first question was whether the fee should be abolished, and 10 per cent. said "Yes". When asked whether it should be increased to £5, 45 per cent. said "Yes". When asked whether it should be more than £5 and asked to state their own figures, 45 per cent. again said "Yes". My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood told us how many households have dogs, so it is interesting that 90 per cent. of those who answered believed that £5 was the minimum. The person who suggested a fee of £1, 000 was perhaps being rather extreme.
The second question was whether the fee should cover one dog, two dogs or as many as the family own. Eighty-five per cent. believed that it should cover one dog, 5 per cent. believed that it should cover two dogs and 10 per cent. believed that it should cover as many dogs as the family owned.
The third question asked whether there should be a reduced rate for pensioners. That matter is not covered in the Bill. Thirty per cent. believed that there should be a reduced rate for all pensioners and a further 40 per cent. for pensioners in receipt of supplementary benefit. Only 30 per cent. believed that there should be a reduced rate for working dogs only but, not surprisingly in our part of the country, 70 per cent. also required reduced rates for pet shops, kennels, breeders and hunts.
In answer to the sixth question, 98 per cent. said that the dog warden scheme should give powers to the warden to require a person whose dog has fouled the pavement to clean it up on the spot. Many people wrote to say that if it happens with one's child one cleans up behind it. That should also apply to pets.
The seventh question asked whether a dog pound should be established, and 99 per cent. said "Yes". Asked whether there should be a dog tag, 90 per cent. said that there should be a colour-coded tag and 10 per cent. preferred some form of paper licence.
I do not suggest that any poll, be it Gallup or otherwise, is perfect—although some are better than others these days—but it seems that this poll expresses a standard viewpoint. Legislation is required. It is not hostile to the animal, but is in favour of the controlled pet. I take the greatest pleasure in sponsoring my hon. Friend's Bill. Those who might try to oppose it should beware the reaction of hon. Members. No one who has spoken today has opposed the Bill. One wonders whether on the tombstones of hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will be written "Talked out before his time."
The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller), whose speech was very entertaining. Like him, I support the Bill, or at least its broad intentions. I have more criticism to offer than the hon. Gentleman. I notice that the letter to which he referred from the Association of District Councils accepted that the Bill was imperfect. The hon. Gentleman did not provide the House with evidence of those imperfections.
The hon. Gentleman referred to polls. If one polled people who do not smoke, asking them what they thought about tobacco taxation, they would demand that it should be increased. Those who do not drink would feel that it was appropriate greatly to increase the duty on alcoholic beverages. Those who do not keep dogs would be in favour of substantial increases in dog licence fees. We are not yet near a system in which people name their levels of income tax. If they did, they would pitch it lower than the Chancellor of the Exchequer might feel was desirable. Therefore, we must treat some of those polls with a pinch of salt. I accept that the hon. Gentleman put the point forward in a more lighthearted spirit than my earlier comments may have suggested.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) for introducing the Bill, which I hope will reach the statute book. He knows that I want it to be in a different form when it is enacted.
The speech made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) led me to believe that it might be highly desirable for the Government to resist changes for a reasonable period in order to allow them to have the experience of the wrath of the hon. Lady. I see that the Minister of State is expressing some interest in that suggestion.
The hon. Lady's speech was made against a background of considerable experience, as was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). People should pay attention to those speeches. I am convinced that the hon. Member for Kingswood did so. I hope that the Government Departments did. I am afraid that the Government are seeking to use the hon. Member for Kingswood to get out from under the responsibility that they should have in the matter. I trust that they will not place the hon. Gentleman in such a difficult position that the Bill he has bravely tackled is imperilled because the Government are trying to drive too hard a bargain. If the Government do so, they will risk the wrath not merely of those interested in dogs but of those who wish to see legislative advance in that area.
The Bill should be a Government Bill and it ought to be comprehensive measure. In it there is a reference to the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. A measure dealing with that law is needed. I assisted my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) in getting that Bill through the House in 1973. He introduced it because of the dreadful conditions in what were then called puppy factories, as reported by the media. Disgraceful stories were told. My right hon. Friend decided that a Private Member's Bill was necessary. It went through the House with all-party support.
I was talking to my right hon. Friend about the Bill the other day. He accepts, as do most dog breeders, that the Bill has proved deficient. It has been harder on reputable breeders than on disreputable people, against whom the Bill was aimed. That deficiency is not my right hon. Friend's fault. He pioneered a new step towards decency.
The Government are well aware that that Act of Parliament does not do what was intended. It would have been desirable to have a more comprehensive Bill, which would have covered the points that the hon. Member for Kingswood is seeking to cover. The hon. Gentleman recognises, and the Minister is probably aware, that it would be a fortunate Back Bencher who could take through the House a Bill of the size that such a comprehensive measure would entail. I recall taking through the House what became the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975. That was a substantial job. I was fortunate to have the co-operation of both sides of the House and particularly of the Department of the Environment. Without that help, a Bill of such size would have had no chance of enactment.
The hon. Member for Kingswood is to be congratulated on taking on a responsibility that the Government have regrettably shirked. I accept that the Labour Government could have had a go. The working party report had become available. However, hon. Members who served at that time will know that the Government, in a minority situation, would not have had a hope of getting the measure through the House. I acquit those Conservative Members present of any charge of malicious mischief-making. They would have played no part in such activity, certainly not the hon. Member for Drake. However, with a Labour Government who did not possess a majority, any Bill would have been stultified by the talking out tricks of Conservative Members. I hope that no Conservative Member will seek to talk out this Bill. It is an important measure.
I hope that some changes will be considered and perhaps made to the Bill. I do not take the view that local authorities should determine the licensing. I am not aware of the wishes of my own local authority in this matter. I know only that it has been placed in the most appalling position in the last year. This is an issue to which I have already referred in the House this week and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) also drew attention. My local authority has sought to comply with the Government's instructions. We have pitched our spending within the Government's guidelines. As a consequence, we have suffered an enormous cut in provision for the year 1982–83.
Local authorities could find themselves placed in a situation, as a result of Government policy, whereby they had no alternative but to seek to use the licence arrangements to raise money to meet some other essential service costs rather than the dog warden scheme.
The Government should not dodge their responsibilities. They should fix a licence fee. The burden should not be placed on the hon. Member for Kingswood. The National Farmers Union has suggested a minimum fee. The least that the Home office can do, I suggest, is to propose that there should be a maximum. This will enable people interested in dogs to maintain that interest without being priced out of the market.
People who keep more than one dog usually care for them better than people who have only one dog. Clause 3(4) needs, therefore, to be reconsidered. I see no reason why people who keep a few dogs for purposes of exhibition, obedience competitions and such activities should have to pay the cost of several licences. People who keep dogs for obedience competitions do not create a problem. I see no reason why they should subscribe several times over to the system proposed in the Bill.
At one time, I gained considerable pleasure from exhibiting dogs. Unfortunately, as hon. Members will appreciate, anyone entering these portals has remarkably little leisure time. The pressure of constituency engagements meant that I had to call it a day. I still meet, however, many people engaged in the dog fancy. They have a part to play in promoting the better use and better keeping of dogs. There might be benefits if the Government spent some money offering inducements, encouragement and advice to enable people to learn more about the responsibilities that dog owners should properly accept.
There are many dog fanciers in this country. For example, there are 1, 750 canine societies and 600 dog training clubs. So there are many organisations, and they have tens of thousands of members. I suggest to the hon. Member—and, perhaps, to the Minister, who may appreciate the point—that if the Government insist on the hon. gentleman sticking to these arrangements, it is possible that the normally quiescent dog fanciers will suddenly wake up to what is being threatened. We could find ourselves subjected to an astonishingly large lobby.
Every Labour Member who has spoken has expressed a measure of agreement with what I have said. So if there is a lobby from the dog fraternity, it will be properly aimed at members of the Government and those Conservative Back Benchers who endorse the view of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). There should be a maximum fee, and there should be a contribution from the relevant Government Department, at least in the sense of accepting responsibility. If that responsibility is not accepted, hon. Members will be creating a great deal of work for themselves because people in all constituencies who are normally busy enjoying dog shows and training or walking their dogs, may find time to visit their Members' surgeries or write a series of letters to them. Because that has never happened before it does not mean that it is unlikely to happen during the next few months. We await with interest the Minister's comments, and I hope that they will accommodate some of the suggestions that have been made.
There are 4 or 5 million dogs in this country, which may be too many. We hear that many of them are unlicensed. However, the people who will pay the licence fee of £5, £10 or £20 or whatever it happens to be, are those who pay the licence now. The people who complain about dogs on beaches or of dogs chasing sheep probably accept that the majority of those dogs are among the substantial number that are not covered by a licence now. I hope that neither the Government nor the hon. Member for Kingswood will create a situation in which the just are required to pay for the sins of the unjust.
The dog warden service has much to offer. Parish councils in my constituency have had experience of such a service and view the idea with approval. The warden should be not merely a kind of canine pound keeper, but someone who can give advice, and work with the canine organisations that I have mentioned. I suggest, too, that the umbrella organisation of dog fanciers in this country, the Kennel Club, could make a substantial contribution. Its chief executive told me that 54 per cent. of dogs in Britain today are pedigree, and that the club is developing a substantial computer capability and already has a data base of 21/4 million dogs. So it would be possible to establish a breeders' register, which would help in the development of a proper service and proper arrangements for the regulation and keeping of dogs.
I do not wish to say much more, and I have no intention of talking the Bill out. There are important matters that need to be raised in relation to the Bill.—[interruption]I suggest that I have raised to relieve the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) of any obligation to intervene. This is a worthy Bill, and its intentions are excellent. If the hon. Member continues to interrupt throughout the debate, he will pose a threat to a Bill that has good intentions. but that needs certain revisions.
I do not wish the National Farmers Union to think that we dismiss its view. I hope that the existing exemption for collies and cattle dogs will be maintained in the Bill. When I speak about cattle-herding dogs I do not suggest that the Royal Family's corgis should be exempt.
I trust that the requirement to wear a label or a collar with a tag will not apply within the precincts or curtilage of a place where dogs are shown or compete in obedience competitions. The hon. Member for Devon, North referred to wire-haired fox terriers. I do not particularly like that breed. Larger dogs tend to be quieter and far better with children.
I wish to ensure that people who keep dogs, who are genuinely interested in dogs and want them to be kept properly are not discouraged by the Bill. I hope that they will be reassured that the proposals are designed to promote decency in arrangements and to discourage the fraud, the crook and the irresponsible and that they will offer no deterrent to the proper leisure activity with, and to the good management of, dogs.
I support the Bill but I also wish to help my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) with his Restrictive Trade Practices (Amendment) Bill. For that reason I shall be brief.
I agree that there is a need for more comprehensive legislation on dogs. There is nothing new about that. Things change, but they remain the same. I am reminded of that by Hansard in 1867 when the House of Commons was considering a report
upon the capability for settlement and the best means of settling Her Majesty's Territory lying between Lake Superior and the Pacific".
That is part of Canada. On Wednesday we discussed Canada.
Back in 1867, in response to a question, a Minister was in Hansard reported as saying:
It had been the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill to make regulations with regard to dogs running about the streets without their owners, but the state of public business has made it impossible to do so with any chance of its being passed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) accuses the previous Government of lethargy and lack of activity in relation to legislation on dogs. There is nothing new in that. It was happening in 1867 and has happened ever since.
My qualification for speaking in this brief debate is that I like dogs. At the risk of sounding like Romulus or Remus, I must tell the House that I grew up with a dog. I regret that the exigencies of life and moving around as we must, prevent me from having a dog now. It would not be fair on the dog, but I like dogs. I respect and understand the companionship and affection that dogs can bring to a family. They are of great benefit to the elderly and people who live alone.
The Bill concentrates on dogs that do not have responsible owners. It sets up a mechanism to deal with that problem. I shall concentrate on dogs with responsible owners, particularly in urban areas. Dogs can not only be a cause of great companionship and affection but a cause of nuisance. They can foul the streets, verges and beaches. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, (Mr. Aspinwall) is courageous to the Bill because nothing enlarges the postbag so much as any comment about dogs. If one comments one is assumed to be an enemy of dogs. I disclaim that.
Legislation could be changed to make life better for the responsible dog owner and to enable local authorities to facilitate better arrangements for dogs and their natural functions.
In 1977 I introduced the Dogs (Control of Nuisances) Bill. It received only a First Reading, and I did not pursue it further. It contained a number of detailed measures to enable local authorities to regulate areas of public space used by dogs. As the title of the current Bill involves miscellaneous provisions, it is in order for me to draw attention to the various measures that my research unearthed at that time. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood this is the first opportunity for many years to discuss dogs, and I shall take advantage of it and refer to my proposed measures.
Where a local authority controls common land, the antiquity of the law on common land prevents the authority from fencing off that land because, by definition, it is common and for the use of all. In my Bill in 1977 I proposed that local authorities be given special authorisation by Act of Parliament, in conformity with section 194(4) of the Law of Property Act 1925, to permit enclosures to be made on commons as defined in the Commons Act 1876. The purpose was to provide special areas for the use of dogs. The newspapers, of course, grabbed hold of that proposal and suggested that the areas would be "doggy loos". I prefer to regard them as special areas which the public can see are intended for the exercise and use of dogs rather than for use by children and the public.
I suggested further that local authorities should be given power to designate verges on roads and footways part of those roads and footways, so that, if it wished, a local authority could designate a verge and by law prevent dogs from fouling the verges and footways. At present, a local authority can make it an offence for a dog to foul the road and footway but not certain verges.
I urge local authorities to provide special facilities for dogs. This is a serious problem in the urban environment. Advertisements for animal food show dogs bounding across open spaces with lots of grass and air. That is often not the case. Responsible owners do not know where to take their dogs for them to exercise their natural functions. Local authorities should be encouraged to provide special areas for the purpose.
In 1977 I also proposed a change in the law affecting the evidence produced to establish whether a person was in charge of a dog at the time of an alleged offence of fouling an area contrary to the byelaws. Evidence might be produced to show that the dog was under the habitual control and in the registered ownership of an individual, I suggested that this should be accepted as evidence, although not conclusive evidence, that the person in charge of the dog should have been exercising better control and, prima facie, was responsible for the dog fouling the area.
Those modest measures are purely enabling measures, to give more power to local authorities. I accept that they will not change the urban environment completely, but they will enable local authorities to exercise slightly more control over a nuisance that is causing great concern to a number of people who live in areas where there is insufficient open space for dogs.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the House will bear these measures in mind and that, before too long, a Government will have the courage to accept the need for more comprehensive legislation on dogs. When that happens, I hope to be here to support the legislation.
I hope that nobody will try to talk the Bill out. I promise that I shall be brief to try to ensure that the Bill receives a Second Reading.
Like other Labour Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) on introducing the Bill. The need for legislation on this issue has been ably stressed by the hon. Member and I shall support the Bill as a dog lover—incidentally a Jack Russell dog lover—and give support to the measure. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on his attempt to do something on the matter and his remarks today.
I also compliment the research department of the House of Commons Library on the excellent document which it produced on the control of dogs which was published on 19 March 1981. It gives most of the information that hon. Members need when we discuss a subject such as the one we are discussing today.
In all probability the threat of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) to the Government will send chills down the spine of the Prime Minister. No doubt we shall hear a prepared statement from the Government Front Bench later saying that we have the blessing of the Cabinet.
In his 32-minute presentation of the Bill, the hon. Member for Kingswood covered most of the problems brought to the notice of hon. Members and to my notice by my local council. The legal dignitaries here today must be afforded their interventions to prove how essential they are to any and all Bills, whether good, bad or indifferent. I hope that the complexities of the issues raised can be overcome because it is essential to ensure that the Bill, suitably amended, becomes law.
For a number of years my borough council has tried to implement a dog warden scheme. It has difficulties, which have been increased in the past few years, because of financial stringency. However, only recently it decided to implement a dog warden scheme. It has a further difficulty which is that in the open borough area there are 19 community councils and four town councils. Each and every community council would like to have a dog warden but in some of the areas and some of the community councils there is no real necessity for one because they do not have a stray dog problem. Therefore, it is essential that the local authorities should use some discretion.
I very much doubt whether they would be able to introduce a scheme whereby dog wardens could cover the whole of the 95 square miles of the Ogmore constituency adequately enough to ensure that what is necessary, and contained in the Bill, could operate efficiently and successfully within the borough. However, they welcome the Bill and have asked me to come here this morning to support it, as I do. I assure the hon. Member for Kingswood that the Bill will receive my support and that of many of my hon. Friends.
There is one danger with dog wardens similar to that which we have with traffic wardens. I hope that they will be selected for their commitment to animal welfare and not, like some traffic wardens whom I have met, for being anti-social.
I hope that hon. Members will support the Bill.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) on introducing an admirable Bill. Like the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), I shall be brief to ensure that it receives a Second Reading.
It will be a comfort to hon. Members who may not follow such matters closely to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) is also a sponsor of the Bill. We all know of her work for animal welfare. Her sponsorship should be more than sufficient assurance that the Bill will ensure the welfare of animals, whatever else it may do.
I was contacted by the Watford borough council environmental health department, which is concerned about such matters and welcomes the Bill. I contacted the Association of District Councils, which, with some reservations, also wished the Bill to have a Second Reading.
The need for the Bill is well known. At least 5, 000 farm animals a year are injured or killed by stray dogs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) said, the National Farmers Union would say that the number was considerably higher. There are approximately 12 road deaths a year resulting from the straying of dogs and nearly 2, 000 road accidents. People are bitten daily and footpaths are fouled, with the consequent risk of disease. It is estimated that 50 per cent. of the dogs in the country are not licensed. The interdepartmental working party estimated that nearly 200, 000 stray dogs roam around. It cannot be disputed that we have a serious problem.
My hon. Friend may be aware of the pioneering work of Professor Woodruff at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He points out that about 50 children a year may suffer damage leading to the loss of sight in one eye as a result of toxocara canis, which is abundant in our parks. If anyone believes that that is not valid evidence, let me say that one of my children is blind in one eye as a result of that dreadful disease.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has already attempted to introduce a Bill on the matter. It is regrettable that such an important measure has to he introduced under the hit-and-miss procedure of private Members' legislation.
One of the main attractions of the Bill is that it transfers responsibility for dogs from the police to local authorities. Only this week the Home Secretary was besieged on all sides, particularly from the Conservative Benches, by hon. Members asking that the police should be more robust and active in the control of law and order. We should do all that we can to assist the police in their prime function of law enforcement. Our police forces should not have to chase stray dogs to put them into kennels.
Many members of the public will ask themselves why, after such an important report produced by the joint working party, nothing has been done. When the working party's report was introduced, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said:
No new manpower or other new resources can be made available in the economic circumstances".
I am sure that at that time many people said "We have heard that before". I regret to say that we were to hear it again very recently from the mouth of this Government, when my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) said that the Government would consider the report in the context of the current constraints on public expenditure.
Part of the excellent briefing that the Association of District Councils has put out on the matter contains correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) in which again the Government have stated their position.
Labour and Conservative Governments have accepted the report and have held out little hope of doing anything about it. That is a matter of great regret. Therefore, the Bill is not only needed but overdue.
I should like to tell the House what my own borough council has done and is doing, the sort of difficulties that it is facing, and why it would strongly support the Bill.
Watford borough council appointed a dog warden in June 1981. I spoke to the council about the matter this week and was given an outline of the sorts of tasks and duties that the dog warden performs in any given month. January was taken as a typical month. In that month, 23 complaints were received by the borough council concerning stray dogs. The warden was unable to catch 11 of them, seven were picked up and identified, and five were taken to kennels by the police.
I know that the recommendation is that there should be one dog warden for 50, 000 people. Has the Watford council achieved that ratio? Does it think that its ratio is a proper one?
The borough of Watford has a population of about 80, 000 and it has one dog warden. To that extent, the dog warden is coping with a population slightly larger than the one recommended by the working party. His appointment was in June 1981 and he is due to give a report at the end of this year to the environmental health department on the work that he has been doing. The borough council will then be able to make an assessment of it. The council has already told me that it regards the work as useful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake will be pleased to know that the post of dog warden in Watford was set up initially on a low key basis, so that he would not in any way be regarded as a dog catcher. Some of his work involves going to schools and talking to children about pet care. That is an important aspect of the work in which we should like to see dog wardens involved. Nevertheless—this is one of the problems to which the Bill addresses itself—the cost of the dog warden service to the Watford borough council is £9, 000 per annum.
The number of dogs at present registered in the borough is approximately 4, 000, and the income that the borough receives from the licence fees is £1, 800. The House will appreciate—I am sure that other hon. Members will know of district councils in a similar position—that at a time when the Government are properly asking local authorities to restrain their expenditure there is not much incentive for local authorities to embark on dog warden schemes, with all the attendent costs and administration, if the cost is in no way covered by the licence fees. I regret that my hon. Friend's Bill does not contain any provision to increase the fee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has said that he would be prepared to consider amendments on these points in Committee. This leads me to the main objections that the Association of District Councils and the National Farmers Union have to the Bill. My hon. Friend has said that he would certainly consider amendments to exempt farm and working dogs which are attending sheep and cattle. That is very important. I hope that he would also be prepared to consider an exemption for hounds under 12 months not entered in packs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North said, this is a measure of fundamental interest to urban constituencies which, of course, is why I support it so strongly. There is an important rural interest and I hope that we shall not overlook it in Committee.
The Association of District Councils has repeatedly argued for the implementation of the working party report. It believes that the report is right, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) said, and that the responsibility for the licence fee and its fixing at £5 should be taken over by Government. I believe that there is a strong case for allowing local authorities to fix licence fees simply because prevailing conditions in local authorities vary. The hon. Member for Ogmore told us about some of his local authority's difficulties. The Watford borough council's problems will be very different from those faced by the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. Again, that aspect ought to be discussed in Committee.
I am concerned, as is the Association for District Councils, that the Bill as drafted imposes a specific obligation on local authorities to employ wardens. I should be happier if local authorities were allowed to take their own decisions about such matters. We should suggest that local authorities exercise their own discretion in areas such as this.
I accept that.
I much regret that an important measure of this sort has not been brought forward by the previous or present Administration. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the welcomes the Bill and that, when in Committee, he will bring forward amendments to extend its scope and to improve it.
I think that it would be convenient for the House at this stage if I gave the official Opposition's view on the Bill. First, I congratulate the hon, Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) on having the courage to advance this piece of suggested legislation. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know the controversial nature, in a country such as ours, of any legislation dealing with animals.
I well remember having some correspondence a few years ago with my local authority about the need to establish a dog warden service within and around my constituency. I assure the hon. Member for Kingswood that I received a shoal of letters accusing me of being everything from a "rabid"—if that is the right term—"dog hater" to a "wicked oppressor of the old age pensioner's only companion". It was enough to deter me from ever mentioning the subject again during any meeting in my constituency. If the hon. Gentleman has not already taken on additional secretarial assistance, he will probably need to do so when the Bill is in Committee.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the Bill and wish to support it. The valid criticism that has been expressed, again from both sides of the House, has been of successive Governments rather than of the hon. Gentleman and his Bill. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) rightly said that it is the job of the Government rather than that of individual Back Benchers to introduce legislation of this sort, no matter how well intentioned Back Benchers might be.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), who introduced two Ten-Minute Bills on this subject during the previous Parliament. Predictably, his name is on the list of the Bill's sponsors.
I do not intend to justify the lack of action in this area by the previous Labour Government. As a junior member of that Administration, I assure the House that if a suggestion had come before the Whips' Office during the four years that I was there that legislation should be introduced to control dogs, the pungent comments for which the Whips' Office is privately, if not publicly, known would have been fairly strong. We considered at that time that we had enough problems on our hands without embarking on this type of legislation.
Fairly early on in the life of the previous Labour Government a working party was set up, which reported in 1976. It is interesting and relevant to consider its remit and to contrast it with the lack of action from both Labour and Conservative Governments since the working party reported. It was set up
To examine the law, customs and practice relating to the control of dogs, including licensing arrangements and the problems of strays; and to make recommendations.
I understand that it received evidence and comments from 91 different organisations. Information and statistics were provided by local authority associations and police forces throughout the country.
The working party took into account the issues raised in numerous parliamentary questions, in letters from Members of Parliament and in direct evidence from members of the public. The somewhat emotive way in which the working party's report opened shows the depth of feeling about dogs. I sometimes think that this nation has a mythical reputation of being a nation of dog lovers. As I travel round my constituency, especially on some of the larger housing estates, I think that a more accurate description would appear to be a nation of dog keepers—and we do not appear to do that very well. Many dogs, regarded very much as family pets, are turned out to fend for themselves from fairly early in the morning until 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. That is an appalling indictment of the multi-faceted approach of the nation towards animals in general and dogs in particular.
The working party's report began:
There is a very close and long-standing relationship between the two.
That is the relationship between men and dogs.
This relationship is somewhat mocked, occasionally cheapened and often ignored, but for many people dogs are indispensable as companions and working help mates. It is regrettably true that they are also treated by many others as mere objects to he used without feeling and discarded without compunction. The fact that so many of the dog problems which now cause concern in this country are the result of unintentional or thoughtless cruelty should not disguise the fact that the cruelty exists and, since the victim is both trusting and defenceless, is an affront to any civilised society".
The working party's report appeared to be as confused about the total number of dogs in Britain as the rest of us. It estimated that by mid-1980 there would be about 6 million dogs in Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) pointed out that one of the difficulties with legislation—whether it is introduced by means of a Private Member's Bill or by the Government—is that any increase in the dog licence fee all too often falls on the law-abiding rather than the lawless. I am yet to be convinced that those who refuse to pay the present paltry fee can be persuaded or cajoled into paying a substantially greater fee. I hope that the Minister will give the House some guidance on that point.
There has been some criticism during the debate of the fact that local authorities will play a bigger part in the licensing of dogs than they do now. Local authorities have always had responsibilities for dogs and dog licensing. They collect dog licence fees via the post office and they are responsible for administering the provisions of the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 and the Guard Dogs Act 1975—to name but three. For many years they have been responsible for the promulgation of byelaws on dogs.
The working party felt that there was a strong argument in favour of transferring the responsibility for dealing with stray dogs from the police to local authorities. That is probably why it recommended that so strongly. The working party also said that strays could best be dealt with by dog wardens. It commented on the need for additional manpower and expressed great concern about how those manpower requirements would be financed.
A charge for keeping dogs has been levied since 1796. The rate varied from time to time, but in 1867 it was replaced by an excise duty of 5s. and was increased in 1878—predictably, by a Conservative Government—to 7s. 6d. Despite decimalisation, that figure has remained static. Local authorities were first made responsible for collecting licence fees by the Dog Licences Act 1959. In the event of local authorities setting up dog warden schemes, the working party—in 1976—suggested a licence fee of £5. I do not know the value of £5 in 1982 compared with 1976.
That very point has disturbed me greatly. Apart from the issue of local taxation, it means that the good dog owners in a local authority will carry the entire cost. Surely this should be a national matter. No hon. Member would support legislation designed to give local authorities an absolutely open power to fix whatever fee they wished. The likely cost will be £10, or more, particularly in an area which has an expensive dog warden scheme.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has touched on two vital weaknesses in the proposed legislation. That is no criticism of the hon. Member for Kingswood. Most hon. Members would think that it was nonsense to have differential rates of dog licence fees throughout the country. I remember some of the more lurid newspapers in the 1950s reporting events that took place in America. There was one well publicised offence of a minor being taken across a state line for immoral purposes. If we have different rates for dog licences, will it be an offence to take a dog across a county boundary—whether for moral or immoral purposes—with intent to avoid a higher licence fee?
Different rates would be nonsense. Most hon. Members would agree that the licence fee needs to be increased, but that it should be increased by the same amount throughout the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman made the point that good dog owners would be paying for the rest. Without substantial penalties, that is exactly what will happen. It happens today with road fund and television licences. There is widespread evasion, but it can be reduced by strong enforcement. Dog licences should conform with other licensing requirements made by modern society.
The problems have been well spelt out in the debate. I recall an incident that took place close to the constituency that is so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North. A motor car swerved to avoid a stray dog and killed two young sisters in an area covered by a local authority that I represented. There was a justifiable outcry. The memory of meeting the bereaved mother remains with me. The law on stray dogs must he more adequately enforced, because such dogs are a menace.
The hon. Gentleman has pointed to the relationship between clogs and fatal accidents. That is a valid point. However, is it not true that only some of the dogs involved are strays?
That may be right, but most of the dogs involved in major or minor accidents are not on leads. They are not necessarily strays. Many owners think it quite permissible to allow their dogs to have "a run round the block", but they overlook the fact that their dogs may be a nuisance not only to neighbours, but to passing motorists. Not all the dogs involved are strays, but they are loose and just as much a menace. Stray or not, loved or unloved, dogs cause accidents.
The risks to human health and the associated problems have been more than adequately illustrated. No Government should ignore the risks to children's health. I am sure that all hon. Members receive many letters on the nuisance caused by dogs fouling footpaths and parks. Again, that happens whether the dogs are stray or on a lead, loved or unloved.
I do not suggest that any Government should adopt Burnley borough council's policy. Its difficulties with dog owners have been well publicised. However, confess—no doubt unwisely, as the confession will remain with me for ever—that when I read the stories in the national newspapers, my sympathies were with the local authority, not the protesters.
A nation-wide problem should be tackled on a nationwide basis. However, it is never the right time to introduce legislation that involves spending public money. At the time of the working party report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said that there was no money with which to implement the recommendations, but that does not alter the fact that they probably should have been implemented. They certainly should be implemented now.
Subsequent generations may see the economic problems of the 1970s as the golden age of British manufacturing industry. Boom or slump, recession or spending spree, there will always be relevant financial objections to such legislation. Nevertheless, it is long overdue.
The dog warden system has been successful in and around the metropolitan borough of Sandwell, in which my constituency lies. Since 1980 there has been a full-time dog warden, and there has been a notable reduction in the number of stray dogs and associated problems. I have some statistics for a three-month period some time ago. The dog warden has picked up 178 strays without identification. He returned 100 strays to their owners because they had identification tags and picked up 18 dogs from people who did not want them any more. In three months he has dealt with 296 cases. In a borough with 250, 000 people that is a small proportion of the total problem, but it shows the depth and nature of it.
To show that the dog warden does not regard his job as merely the collection and round-up of stray dogs, I should point out that in the same three-month period he dealt with no fewer than 15 complaints about foxes, which, in an urban area such as the West Midlands, is surprisingly high. To show his impartiality, he not only impounded dogs and chased foxes, but impounded four horses and managed to return nine stray cats to their owners. That illustrates the versatility and necessity of such an appointment, even in an urban area.
I understand that there was an attempt to introduce such legislation by the Labour Government through the Department of the Environment, but only for Northern Ireland. The main reason was the heavy incidence of sheep-worrying in Northern Ireland, which is 18 times greater than here. The fact is that legislation has been passed for Northern Ireland and that such legislation should be implemented in the rest of the United Kingdom.
We have had many requests for urgency from hon. Members on both sides of the House. The official Opposition welcome the Bill. There is much wrong with it—there normally is with any Bill—but we hope that its deficiencies can be rectified in Committee. We support its general expressions of view and its backbone. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood and his sponsors and wish them well. We hope to see the Bill on the statute book before long.
In view of the limited time and the fact that on both sides of the House there is a genuine desire to get the Bill through its Second Reading, I shall be brief but sincere in my comments. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) on four matters. The first is his good fortune in being selected number five in the ballot. The second is his wisdom in selecting such an important subject. Thirdly, I congratulate him on the manner in which he has presented the Bill and fourthly, most importantly, on his perfect timing, especially in the wake of the international dog show at Crufts last weekend and the fact that within a mile of the Palace of Westminster, at the Tate Gallery, we have on display the finest collection of oil paintings of dogs that has ever been assembled in a permanent exhibition.
Every hon. Member has a debt of gratitude to dogs. That was typified by early-day motion 605 in the previous Session, which related to one of the finest servants the House has had. I refer to Ferdie the police dog who did duty in the House every working day for nine years.
The Bill commends itself to the House. One important by-product has not been mentioned. Once one can control stray dogs, one can maintain a better quality of dog. I am especially sad that, about 70 years ago, the Talbot terrier became extinct in Staffordshire because no one cared about dogs. Stray dogs are not the real nuisance. The heart of the problem is the fact that people and not dogs are responsible for the present position.
Between 1979 and 1980 there were 4, 600 accidents on our roads as a direct result of stray dogs, and 43 of those accidents were fatal.
On the debit side, we have had an excellent debate on the worrying of livestock, the fouling of public highways and dogs roaming in packs.
I should like to stress something that I believe to be much more important. It is within my knowledge, and has been mentioned by many hon. Members today, that rabies has spread across the continent of Europe. Rabies is prevalent 20 miles from the French coast. Those of us who have been in countries where rabies is prevalent can understand clearly the tremendous problems that would arise if rabies entered this country.
I am prepared to be fair about licence fees. The Bill requires something national to bind it together. That would be a national licence fee. It is horrific to consider that in the past four years the cost of collecting licence fees has been over £9 million. Most of the dogs that I see always seem to be five months and three weeks old. They never seem to reach six months.
In welcoming the Bill, as one of its sponsors, and in wishing it godspeed, I say with absolute certainty that some things are wrong with it. The House is in danger if we start saying that we shall go only half-way and if we start making compromises. I subscribe to the view that has been expressed that what we really need is a fully comprehensive measure introduced by Her Majesty's Government. However we do not have that measure.
I hope that the Bill will receive the assent of hon. Members present today and that it will go to Committee, where its flaws can be put right. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has done the House, the country and his constituency a great service by introducing the Bill I commend it to the House.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I make my observations now.
I add my personal word of congratulations to those received by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) from both sides of the House on his good fortune in drawing so high a place in the ballot. I also add a word of encouragement to him for his courage in proceeding. As hon. Members have recognised, the Private Member's Bill is a form of legislation of which the track history is far from bright.
It might give my hon. Friend some modest encouragement, and I might not yet risk the wrath of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes)—I have no doubt that it will come in due course—if I remind the House that the history of the legislation in large measure seems to be one of private Members trying to make progress with legislation.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to the eighteenth century background. There is a delightful little history of taxation written by Mr. Stephen Dowell, which refers to the original introduction of taxation on dogs. I quote from page 294 of "History of Taxation and Taxes in England":
These considerations prompted the first proposals for a tax on dogs made in former times in the house of commons; which came from private members, to whom revenue was a secondary object. Among such proposals may be mentioned the Dog Bill introduced in April 1755…This Bill failed to become law; and was followed by other suggestions to the same effect equally fruitless; until the Dog Bill brought in by Mr. Dent in 1796."
There is, therefore, a long and honourable history of private Members' legislation pertaining to dogs.
It is evident from the debate that while there is considerable agreement on the principle of wanting legislation, there is considerable disagreement as to what should be within that legislation. That is by no means unusual in a matter of this kind. There has been much discussion about whether the centralised role of licence determination and control is preferable to the role in which my hon. Friend's proposals have cast local authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Drake clearly believed that Governments are primarily to blame for failing to produce comprehensive legislation that has national application. I bow to her criticism. There has consistently been a will to examine, inquire and consult but perhaps less of a will to act. In part, Government's unwillingness to come forward with legislation in this area is due, first to the pressures of parliamentary timetabling and legislative programmes. These matters cannot be regarded as those which consistently come in the top quarter of what a Government, in a term of office, would seek to do.
The short answer is "No". The hon. Gentleman will understand that when I give my second reason why it has not been reasonable for Governments to tackle this task. Although, as a simple gesture, the solution would appear to require very little, the fact remains that the problem of legislating on dogs is extremely complex. The problem stems in part from the fact that it runs across five or six Departments of State. The Home Office is involved, with the police and their powers. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is involved in determining the licence fee. The Department of Health and Social Security is involved in matters pertaining to public health risk and the Department of the Environment is involved with local authority sponsorship. In addition, there are the formidable problems of designing a statute law that would earn the blessing of the Lord Chancellor's Department and deciding whether revenues become central or local government funds. While I deserve some of the strictures made by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, it is extremely difficult to legislate on what appears to be a relatively simply matter. For that reason, Governments of each persuasion have found it difficult to find time to deal with the complexities in a legislat Lye framework.
We are dealing with a fairly precise series of proposals in this Bill. I do not think that any of us, whatever our views about the Bill's substance, can fail to be impressed by the way that my hon. Friend has researched his subject, consulted widely and tackled the drafting of the clauses. He has, I know, consulted local government, the RSPCA, the National Farmers Union and others. He has evidently consulted closely hon. Members who have experience in these matters. It is not the first Private Member's Bill in recent years that has attempted to get to grips with the problem. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is here to give eloquent testimony to that. My hon. Friend's Bill differs significantly from previous attempts. It is worth examining where those differences are and where I consider them to be of importance.
The Bill represents, I think it is fair to say, at first glance, a genuine attempt to get to grips with the subject by concentrating specifically and as clearly as possible on particular issues. It seeks in essence to provide specific discretionary powers for local authorities to control stray dogs and specific discretionary powers for authorities to set up dog warden schemes for this purpose. It also provides for local authorities to determine the level of the dog licence fee in their areas, having regard to the costs involved in dealing with strays and administering the licence fee system. The Bi11 also seeks to give local authorities the option of giving licence fee rebates to supplementary pensioners and agreeing concessionary fees to licensed breeders with more than five dogs.
This is certainly a most interesting package, extremely neatly presented. I have to say, however, that the Government need time to consider the implications. As well as offering a partial solution, the Bill raises a multitude of questions. The approach adopted in the B111 has aroused differing views among hon. Members. The discretionary power for local authorities to raise licence fees has attracted some fairly formidable comment, if not criticism, from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Local authorities have certain discretionary powers in matters of taxation. The approach adopted in the Bill is, however, unique in relation to the widespread ownership and usage, if I may use that word, of dogs in society.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has already drawn attention to the wide scale of dog ownership, A quarter of a million households could be affected by any legislation concerning dogs. The distribution of the households means that practically every local authority in the country will have a substantial number of dog owners in its area. Yet the discretionary power that my hon. Friend includes in the Bill appears, at first glance, to indicate that some authorities may, if they are so minded, raise licence revenue to cover the cost of elaborate systems of dog wardens and control. Some authorities may set a licence fee that does not cover such services. Although there is an amendment to the parent Act in relation to central Government's interest in licence fees, it does not appear to me entirely clear what may be the ultimate relationship between central Government and local authorities which seek to set variable fees according to the political wishes of the councillors concerned.
Is it not also a fact that under the Bill a local authority would be able not to charge any fee at all? As a result of other enactments repealed by the Bill, is there not a chance that no dog licence fee whatever would be raised?
I am not entirely certain that I can answer that question. That is one of the problems that I face in connection with the Bill. It would appear that the Bill seeks to delete those powers at present possessed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to vary the licence fee and related conditions. I am not entirely clear about what will happen in relation to the power of a local authority to set no fee at all. It seems to me that the possibility could arise, through the discretionary power offered in clause 3, for the local authority to set a zero fee.
Is it not a fact that a local authority, if it so wished, could decide to put the cost of administering a dog warden scheme and similar matters on to the ratepayers, irrespective of whether they are dog owners?
There is little doubt, I think, that although local authorities are given a discretionary power by the Bill to raise a licence fee, there is no obligation, as I see it, for all local authorities to pay for a dog warden service through a licence fee. They may decide to introduce a dog warden scheme financed by rate payments. I remind the House that the Government and their predecessor have encouraged local authorities to take voluntary action, if they are so minded, in dog control. Many of them do so. About 100 have control schemes, which, of course, are rate-funded. So clearly the principle of non-dog owners paying for dog control has been used in some local authorities, but whether that is acceptable, I cannot say.
My hon. Friend said that these proposals are a good package, but that he has not had long to think about them. The working party on dogs reported several years ago, so the Government and Governments have had a long time to think about their general approach to this matter. No doubt the Government will therefore be ready to bring forward positive and helpful amendments during the Committee stage. I wonder whether my hon. Friend at this stage would like to say that the Government are committed to a helpful and positive attitude towards this Bill and would like to see it go through.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), would like me to say that, and to say it now. However, I ask him to bear with me a little longer, before I give him the answer that he seeks.
The question of the relationship between tax revenue proposals for local authorities and the current powers of central Government is not a simple matter that can be put right merely by an amendment in Committee. It is a major principle on which the Bill stands or possibly falls.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North talked about the working party report on dogs. I admit that there has been considerable discussion about the working party's recommendations and how those recommendations should be applied. The Government's general view is that the movement, which we welcome, among local authorities to introduce their own schemes is possibly a better way to proceed than a centrally determined scheme. On the other hand, we know that local authorities already have wide powers to deal with some of the more fundamental nuisances of dog control, such as fouling, to which the working party drew attention.
The Bill raises a number of issues, some of which have been touched on today. It is not possible for me to come to a clear conclusion now. I want to mention some of its provisions and the problems that they raise. The preamble states that it seeks to
Make new provision relating to responsibility for dogs in the community, including the establishment of a national dog warden scheme based on local authority areas;".
As there is a discretionary provision in the Bill about local dog warden schemes, the Bill cannot provide a mandatory dog warden scheme. I suggest, therefore, that it is difficult to determine the principles on which the Bill seeks to make statute law.
Clause 1 says that local authorities "may assume" control. Where they can appoint dog warden services they can of course use their powers and set licence fees. However, the clause raises a number of questions. Is there a need for clause 1(1), given that local authorities in England and Wales already seek this power through local legislation? Six county councils have already obtained it, and I understand that the power is also contained in the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill, which is now before the House. I believe that about 20 authorities have already sought the power in Scotland. Again, will the provision of dog wardens improve the situation where dog nuisance and dog control problems arise? That is a matter about which hon. Members have argued eloquently this morning, saying that it would improve the situation. Is it a good thing to specify national standards in dealing with the duties of a dog warden? Are the general powers to be performed by a dog warden under part II of schedule 1 acceptable? Those questions relate to the fundamental use that will be made of the Bill if it is enacted. Major problems arise as a result of clause 2, which deals with taxing the dog owner. Is it right that local authorities should exercise such a method of taxation?
Clause 3 deals with charging fees for a dog licence. There will be substantial differences in the way in which local authorities interpret their task. There will be differences in standards, depending on the attitudes of local councils, on the cost of running warden schemes and on the importance that a council attaches to the scheme. If the Bill is enacted local authorities in adjacent areas will set different standards for performance and fee. The standards could be changed regularly because one must admit that the turnround in political control of local authorities is frequent. That must result in differences in licensing policies and in the way in which dog warden schemes are run.
One must ask whether the standards sought in the Bill are sufficient or whether local authorities are being asked to undertake a licensing procedure and warden scheme that will not stand the test of time. Clause 4 gives local authorities power to determine fees. Such matters and their implications cause us real difficulty.
Neither I nor the Government are against dogs. We have sustained a sharp attack from both sides. We are accused of being against taking any action. It is not right to believe that local authorities or Government Departments are against dogs per se. People are against the nuisances for which dogs are responsible from time to time. People seek greater control of dogs. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood seeks to deal with such problems. He wants to deal with the problems of fouling and strays, which stir the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) spoke of the problems caused by dogs fouling beaches. That stirs the public to write to their local council, Members of Parliament and Ministers. Local authorities and organisations such at the RSPCA are at the sharp end of such problems and they are also concerned.
I accept that the matter is sensitive. Heads shake and hearts beat when the problems of dog nuisance and dog control are raised. I dare say that tails wag too. It is misguided to assume that dogs are being attacked when people argue about such matters and dog control is discussed. Nevertheless, it is recognised that some dog lovers fear that is the case, so much so that all those engaged in considering dog problems or who are on the receiving end of pressure to take action, take great care to establish their credentials and to join the attractive category of dog lovers. That is, indeed, the position in which we see ourselves as a Government. We do not wish to be against dogs. We are trying to grapple with the problems and difficulties that dogs can cause. We are considering whether central legislation is the correct way to tackle the problems.
I note that the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, for example, is equally concerned. In its 1980 annual report it stated categorically
the Institution is not anti-dog".
I am sure that it is right to make such a statement unequivocally when people feel so strongly.
The Government are aware that the present arrangements are, overall, less than satisfactory, especially the licence fee collection cost. No one in his right mind can deny that there is a substantial difference between the cost of collection and the fee. But that difference has evolved over time, and it is not easy to alter it at the stroke of a pen. It is only since 1978-79 that the administrative cost of collecting the licence fee via post offices has outstripped the revenue received. The Government have made no secret of this in answering questions. However, time is not on our side.
Understandably, in debating legislation on dogs, the example of dog control in Northern Ireland is quoted. As the Minister who was concerned with the scheme in Northern Ireland, I am glad to know that it it making progress. But the conditions in Northern Ireland cannot be replicated here. In Northern Ireland, the problem involved large numbers of dogs in packs attacking humans as well as animals. Moreover, the problems of the police in Northern Ireland provided a prima facie case for saying that transfer to local authorities of responsibility for the control of dogs was almost a necessity. We cannot use the Northern Ireland experience as a reason for introducing a similar scheme here
Substantial comment has been made on the predicament of local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. I need to clear up one or two misconceptions that may have crept into some people's minds about the powers available to local councils to control dogs. A variety of powers exist already that they may exercise if, in their judgment, the circumstances in their areas so warrant. It is up to individual authorities to choose whether they make byelaws to control fouling, to make orders to keep dogs on leads on roads, or to create dog warden schemes. These general powers are important for the prevention of hazards to traffic and the public in general.
A number of local authorities have alreac13, sought similar powers to those of the police for seizure, detention and disposal of strays. That illustrates another route by which local authorities can introduce controls on dogs. I have already referred to the Civil Government (Scotland) Bill which contains general powers to deal with strays and to appoint dog wardens on the same basis as the police. It is, therefore, untrue to assert that local authorities do not have the powers to deal with dogs. They have a substantial range of powers and in many cases are using them wisely and well. However, I accept that the Bill proposes a unique package of measures designed to deal with the problems of dog control and strays.
I also accept that the size of the problem prompts hon. Members to call for further action. It is difficult to quantify how many dogs are in private ownership and exactly how many are licensed. We do not know how many strays there are, and I am grateful for the information provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. However, there is no doubt that the dog population has increased substantially this century. An estimate of the total dog population in the United Kingdom was included in the report published in 1975 by the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society under the chairmanship of Lord Houghton. That report estimated that the dog population was 3.2 million in 1956 and 5 million in 1966. It rose to about 6 million in 1975. It is estimated that about half of these are licensed and up to 1 million are regarded as strays of one kind or another.
A dog population of this size and character in an urbanised society where social habits and values are changing, and where road traffic is increasing, poses, as has often been argued, the problems of strays, fouling of public places, traffic accidents, the worrying of livestock, which can quickly spread into rural areas if packs of urban dogs are involved, and attacks on people. In addition there is the problem of diseases transmitted by dogs. There is no question but that that is also a hazard. Finally, there is the major threat of rabies, which has been referred to by one hon. Member this morning.
The working party attempted to consider all these problems, especially that of strays which it defined widely as "unaccompanied dogs". It felt that strays were a predominant cause of concern and that, if they could be dealt with adequately, other problems would fall into place. Whether that is the case is a matter for debate, and it appears from what hon. Members have said that they regard the problem of adequate control of dogs as going beyond the problem of strays and including proper ownership of dogs and high standards of dog control in general.
One of the main recommendations of the working party was that statutory responsibility for dealing with stray dogs under the Dogs Act 1906 should be transferred from the police to local authorities. Naturally we have to consider the references to strays in the Bill in relation to the references in the report. The definition of "stray dog" still needs clarification in the Bill.
The working party's report provided a comprehensive survey which in general still holds good and demonstrates the wide variety of subjects that fall under the heading "dogs". It also illustrates that, without care and attention, it is possible to design a system of control for local authorities that quite easily can go overboard in its use of local manpower and resources. It is that aspect of the working party's report that has caused most difficulty for successive Administrations in determining whether to implement some of its recommendations nationally. We would do well to bear these warnings in mind when contemplating any significant dog schemes.
Another problem was road safety and the control of dogs. The working party recommended the introduction of legislation requiring dogs to be kept on the lead on all roads where street lighting was provided or which were the subject of speed limits. I do not want to make too much of this, but in 1980 in a little more that one half of 1 per cent. of all injury accidents, a dog was reported to have been on the road. We cannot conclude that dogs have necessarily been the cause of the accidents, that dogs and not the drivers provided the cause. Dog control is at a pretty high level, as their involvement in accidents demonstrates.
Has my hon. Friend any figures to show that proportionately a good many more accidents are caused by horses and by cattle on roads than by dogs? I understand that there are more, and that the number of road accidents caused by dogs is considerably lower.
I have no such figures available, and I am not entirely certain that they would be relevant to the problem of dog control. But I take the point that a great many accidents are caused by animals of all kinds.
The eloquent and moving reference to dog diseases by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North was evidence of the dangers. There is no doubt that action to try to limit the spread of diseases transmitted by dogs is very important. Action can be taken primarily by local authorities where it involves cleaning up the mess made by dogs in public places. Of course, it is control of the dog by owner that is possibly the best way of containing diseases transmitted by dogs. A properly controlled and cared for dog ought not to be a dog that transmits diseases.
The House will wish me to say what is the Government's attitude to the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood published the Bill, and it arrived in its present form in my Department on 9 February. I have to tell my hon. Friend that in the intervening seven working days it has not been possible for the Government to give the Bill the full consideration that it deserves and to arrive at a view about whether it should be enacted. So many Departments are involved in legislation affecting dogs that it has physically not been possible either to complete the discussions required or to resolve some of the major policy issues involved in the measure.
Therefore, I am not in the position to give the House the kind of advice that my hon. Friend would wish me to give. We need to address ourselves to the whole of the Bill, which involves many changes in the legislation. It also includes the substantial difficulty about the extent to which local authorities can set licence fees and be self-financing for the operation of the scheme, how they relate to adjacent authorities who do not want to do this kind of thing and to the question whether the Government should have licence fees, as they have always done.
We need to review the measures and evaluate their implications in the light of the considerations expressed by hon. Members today. Having listened to the entire debate it is clear to me that there are major differences of view as to what it the most desirable way of legislating for dogs. I am not impressed by those who say that some legislation is better than none while at the same time pointing out that the Bill involves major differences in the way in which we have traditionally viewed the control of dogs through licence fees and the control measures between local authorities and the individual citizens.
Therefore, the Government are unable to give the kind of guidance that the House would wish. The prime reason for that is that we have had only a short period of time in which to view the contents of the Bill.
The report of the working party came out seven years ago. Governments of both parties have had an incredible length of time to sort out their attitude to the problem.
I can only repeat what I said earlier, that Governments of both persuasions did not feel it right to bring forward legislation because their legislative programme involved significantly more important measures.
The Bill involves major changes in the current regime for dogs and requires major consultation, particularly on the issues involved, as well as the detailed legislation. It is for that reason that I am unable to give the House the guidance that usually the Government give on a Private Member's Bill.
As co-sponsor of what has rightly been called the "dog lovers' Bill", may I offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall) on ensuring that the House has the opportunity to debate the increasingly difficult problems relating to the canine members of our society. We have always prided ourselved on being a nation of dog lovers, and this measure will do much to advance this.
The responsible dog owner has nothing to fear from the Bill, which is intended to safeguard both dogs and the public 'alike. Only the irresponsible, rightly, will be adversely affected. When one considers that about 2, 000 injuries each year are caused by stray dogs, and that about 6, 000 farm animals are killed each year by stray dogs, it is clear that action must be taken. When one considers the serious health dangers, in particular to children, that can be created as a consequence of the fouling of public places by stray dogs, it is clear that action must be taken. When one considers the evident nuisance, often to elderly citizens, resulting from annoyance by stray dogs, it is again clear that action must be taken.
The dog licence system, still at the 1878 level of 7s. 6d., or 35p in modern parlance, is both archaic and useless. Fifty per cent. of dog owners appear not to bother to buy a licence and the cost of collection outweighs the income by £3 million to £1 million.
To have the current system of licensing at all it must be justified on the ground of achieving some good. Does the money help the dog? It does not. Does the money help the dog owner? It does not. Does the money help the Government? It does not. Does the money help the local authority? It does not.
To introduce a realistic licence fee, as this Bill intends, which is then devoted to having a national dog wardens scheme based on local authority areas must make good sense. The district council can then provide a service at no cost to the ratepayer or taxpayer which will help to ensure a better, healthier, safer and more realistic relationship between dog lovers and those not so captivated by canine qualities.
The average dog owner spends between £1.50 and £2 a week on his pet. The suggestion of a £5 licence means only about the equivalent of three weeks cost being spent per year for the advantages of the new system. The dog warden will be able to take action to curb an offending animal by seeing on the dog's collar the owner's address. I would also hope that a licence tag would become mandatory.
It has been suggested that dog wardens will be akin to traffic wardens, but I have some doubts about that, although, of course, the principle is the same. The notion of slapping a ticket on a quiescent hound may in reality lead to interesting exchanges, perhaps a little more physical and a little more painful than the usual confrontation with a motorist. "First catch your dog" may well have to be the motto of our intrepid heroes or heroines.
To relieve the police from an onerous additional duty must be an extra benefit of the Bill, particularlly when one recalls that they deal with about 180, 000 stray dogs a year, of which, sadly, 60, 000 have to be destroyed. Much better that our splendid police force be given greater opportunity to deal with the more serious situations relating to law and order.
It must be hoped that a further benefit of a more realistic licence fee will be the curtailment of the appalling tendency by far too many people to abandon dogs, particularly after puppyhood. This selfishness creates untold misery, for dogs and humans alike. It may well be more realistic for a licence to have to be bought before an animal can be purchased.
It has been said that every dog has his day. The Bill will enhance those days for dogs, but at the same time it will enhance the days for the public.
In view of the lateness of the hour and the length of time that we have been debating the Bill, I shall be brief.
I cannot extend to the Bill the unqualified welcome of other hon. Members, so my reception to it is guarded. There are problems associated with dogs which have no owners or which run loose. They cause considerable concern in town and country. In my area we have particular problems with dogs that worry cattle and livestock.
If the Bill has a Second Reading, it will go into Committee. The promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Aspinwall), says that he and the sponsors are prepared to consider amendments. The problem is that the promoter of a Private Member's Bill tends to tell the Chairman of the Committee of Selection who he would like to serve on the Committee, so critical minds such as mine may not be included.
Therefore, I hope that the House will forgive me if I indicate broadly where the Bill must be improved. The curious effect of clause 3, which deals with licence fees, will be to remove the general liability to pay a dog licence fee and to leave only such a liability or obligation as the local authority may choose to impose. The bizarre effect is that local authorities in some areas may choose to impose no fee.
Let us assume for the moment that there will be a dog licence fee. My criticism of clause 3 is essentially twofold. First, I do not think that the exemptions go far enough. I agree with what has been said from the now empty Labour Benches to the effect that the elderly should be exempted. I am very much in favour of the exemption extending to working dogs. I have in mind in particular those employed in agriculture for looking after sheep and cattle, but there are, of course, other working dogs that we ought to consider. I also think that the present relief extended to hounds under the age of 12 months, not yet in a pack, should be continued. Therefore, I am in favour of the retention of the existing exemptions for working dogs and hounds and would hope that the extension would be made to include elderly dog owners who are in receipt of an old-age pension.
I am very unhappy with the proposal that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be deprived of his regulatory powers under the Local Government Act 1966. It is important that any licence fee that is imposed should be national. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood not to remove from the Minister his power to regulate the licence fee to be charged.
I should be prepared to see a system whereby the Minister laid down a maximum and a minimum fee, the local authority being able to fix its own fee somewhere between the brackets, but I would not be prepared to see a system under which the Government were deprived of all means of regulating the fee, because that would work considerable injustice to my constituents among others.
I have listened to the debate with considerable interest, and no one has touched on the powers of dog wardens and the obligations imposed on the community. With great respect to some hon. Members, I do not think that they have examined the obligations imposed on members of the community. If they had, I do not think that the Bill would receive the support of this House.
I am sorry to be pedantic about this point, but I may not be on the Committee, and this is the last opportunity I have to indicate two serious defects in schedule 1. The first relates to paragraph 6 of part II of schedule 1, which provides that a person shall., if required by a dog warden, produce the licence at a place designated by the dog warden. I have no particular objection, in the context of these kinds of regulations, to an obligation to produce a licence, but I object to the obligation to produce a licence at a place designated by the dog warden.
I have in mind the example of a constituent of mine who chooses to go for a holiday in Cornwall. He leaves his dog licence in Grantham, but he is instructed to produce his dog licence within five days at some place in Cornwall. That would be an intolerable burden on my constituent, who would have to go home, hurry back within five days, and produce the licence at the designated place.
The changes that I would be prepared to contemplate are twofold—first, an extension of the five-day period; second, and much more important, the person required to produce the licence should be entitled to choose the place of its production. This is a matter for debate and discussion. It could be the local police station, it could be the post office, or it could be another local authority office, but it must be a place to which the person having the dog licence is able to go conveniently. There is a very good precedent for this.
Hon. Members know, when dealing with the production of driving licences, that the Road Traffic Act 1972 provided that a motorist should discharge his statutory obligation by producing his licence at a police station of his own choice. This Bill gives a dog warden the power that Parliament has shrunk from entrusting to police officers. Therefore, it is essential that we should modify paragraph 6 to enable a dog owner to produce his licence at the place of his choice and not at the place of the dog warden's choice. That is my first criticism.
My second criticism is also of a drafting character but it is even more important. The Bill provides that a person commits a criminal offence if he
intentionally obstructs a dog warden acting in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
We want to be careful not to impose an obligation on members of the public from which we would shrink. If we did that, we would be acting unreasonably. One must therefore refer to the schedule to understand what a dog warden's powers are and whether failure to comply with his request would be reasonable or unreasonable.
Paragraph 9 of schedule 1 is a rum proposition. It states:
A dog warden may give advice to any person an any issue of public concern relating to dogs or any aspect of keeping a dog as a pet and such advice may relate to problems caused by stray dogs.
The schedule is stating that a dog warden has the statutory right to give us a lecture. That is bad enough, but what is worse is the provision contained in a substantive part of the Bill which states that it will be a criminal offence to obstruct a dog warden in the course of his duty. That means no more and no less than this:If I am approached by a dog warden who proposes to give me a lecture and I say "Enough of this nonsense, my friend, I am not going to put up with it" and turn away, I am guilty of a criminal offence. Furthermore, if I see my wife being badgered by one such tiresome gentleman and step between her and the dog warden and say "Enough of this, this is nonsense", I am committing a criminal offence. That would be the result of the provision.
Paragraph 9 strongly reinforces my hon. Friend's argument. It states:
A dog warden may give advice to any person on any issue of public concern relating to dogs or any aspect of keeping a dog as a pet and such advice may relate to problems caused by stray dogs.
Dog wardens are to be told to give advice to owners, and one can imagine what some owners might think of that.
My hon. and learned Friend is right, but perhaps he did not emphasise the wideness of the power.
The warden's power to give a lecture is not confined to a dog owner. It is a power to lecture anybody. Therefore, if a dog warden sees somebody who clearly needs a lecture and decides that he has a lecture to unburden, he will start lecturing. If a person has had enough and turns away, he will be committing a criminal offence.
To test the folly of that, let us contemplate the House stating "We will give a statutory right to Members of Parliament to give their constituents a lecture. Furthermore, it will be a criminal offence to obstruct the Member of Parliament performing this laudable objective." The country would be in an uproar, as would be the constituents of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape).
Never mind what my constituents might or might not feel. Are we not in great danger of turning this Bill—which has wide support on both sides of the House—into a lawyers' tennis game? If the hon. Gentleman wants to make all these points, he can volunteer to serve on the Committee. He says that wardens may lecture anyone. Since the hon. Gentleman was elected, he has never shown any great shyness about lecturing the House and his colleagues on each and every subject—while being sedentary or standing to attention—at any time.
That is right. I have never been backward about lecturing the House. However, it would be intolerable if the House were under a statutory obligation to listen to me. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if he does not like what I have to say he may leave the Chamber. We shall be sorry to see him leave, but he can do that if he wishes. Under the Bill, if the hon. Gentleman were to leave a dog warden, as I hope he will leave me very soon, he would commit a criminal offence that would be punishable before the courts. The absurdity of the proposition beggars the imagination. I am not being flippant. It may sound as if I am, but I am merely seeking to amuse and instruct.
The proposed powers of the dog warden are excessive in the two respects that I have mentioned. I must mention them now because I find frequently that the sponsors of private Members' legislation choose the Members who should consider their Bills in committee. I do not begrudge them that privilege; it is perfectly proper. However, it means that those who have serious comments to make must express them on Second Reading, in correspondence or on Report. If they are left to when the Bill is considered on Report, the Bill may have been lost.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will consider the powers in the schedule and will ask himself whether they are reasonable. If he shares my view that they are not, they must be amended in Committee. I shall be quite happy but not very content to see the Bill given a Second Reading. However, it requires substantial amendment in Committee, and I hope that my hon. Friend will approach it in that spirit.
The Bill is supposed to be concerned with the proper control of dogs. The control of dogs, like the control of children, requires a certain amount of discipline. The Bill would have hilarious results. Not one dog, including my own, would vote for the Bill. Perhaps some dog lovers think that it is a good idea.
There is no definition of a stray dog in the Bill. The Minister said that a stray dog might be an unaccompanied dog. I do not share that view.
I shall tell the House about Toby, a golden Labrador, who is well known in the House. He is beautiful and much beloved in the corridors of power.
He is very nearly a Member—he has accompanied me here so often. He is so well known and loved by the police, the servants of the House and the lift attendants that he is seldom accompanied by me. He is usually accompanied by a police officer, a lift attendant or by others who like to look after him.
Toby has moved untrammelled through the corridors of power and has come near to being able to vote. I have never had the temerity to bring him into the Chamber. He is virtually never on a lead. That is because he is controlled and disciplined. He travels without a lead in the park, on the underground, on buses and so on. He was put on his lead when he visited Selfridges sale. Unfortunately, he was very nearly seduced by a number of shoppers. Because of his seductive powers, I had to put him on a lead. In Thanet, we do not have dogs on the beaches in the summer because we do not want the beaches fouled. However, in the winter Toby and other dogs go unaccompanied along Thanet's beaches and they cause no harm. Therefore, we are dealing with discipline and control for the few dogs that are genuinely stray, that are unaccompanied and that are not controlled in any way.
How should we deal with them? Those best able to look after dogs have been entrusted with that task since 1906. I refer to the police. They are very good with dogs. They train and understand them. Even in local areas, they love the dogs and recognise that at times particular dogs can be a nuisance. I hope that schools will educate children to love dogs and to understand that if dogs are not kept on leads, they must be properly trained. Most of us are dog lovers.
The 1906 Act gives fairly effective control. It is not true that there have been 20, 000 accidents in one year as a result of stray dogs. There is no vestige of truth in that statement. There is some truth in the statement that some dogs have been involved in some road accidents and that the figure might be that high. However, we still do not know whether the accidents were the fault of the dogs or of the drivers, and we are even less aware whether the dogs were strays. That is true, unless "stray" is so tightly construed as to mean any dog that is not on a lead or accompanied by an owner or guardian. I spent many years at the Bar, but I know of very few accidents caused by stray dogs. Many accidents were caused by stray cattle and several were caused by horses that had shied. Therefore, the problem is small.
It has been said that dogs kill animals. Section 1 the Dogs Act 1906 clearly states:
The owner of a dog shall be liable in damages for injury done to any cattle by that dog.
The Bill deals specifically with any injury done to any animal. If it is proved that a dog has injured cattle, it can be dealt with under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 as a dangerous dog. Therefore, dogs that upset farmers by
killing sheep or injuring cattle are covered by a perfectly good arrangement under which full compensation can be paid and the dog may often properly be destroyed.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has overlooked the fact that many dogs are not licensed and that many of those that trespass on farms, particularly near cities, do not wear collars and cannot be indentified. Even if the police are interested, they cannot give any admissible evidence.
Those dogs can be, and frequently are, shot or disposed of by the farmer. He is entitled to do that if a dog worries his cattle. I do not know of any unidentifiable stray dog in Kent that has caused injury to cattle or poultry. After all, in the countryside people almost always know who is the owner of a dog, even if the dog has no collar. We are talking here about farming and village communities.
The real problem is in the towns and, more especially, on council housing estates and other large estates where dogs are allowed to run around during the day. It is all very well to say that the dogs must be shut up all day. However, if a man goes out to work in the morning and is not allowed to take the dog to his place of work and if his wife also goes out to work and they do not have a garden of any significant size, their dog may be allowed to roam around. Dogs will go out and come home for meals, and many will behave properly. People may know to whom they belong, but they can cause a real problem—although not one with which the Bill can deal.
The problem is an educative one. We must provide as one does with children, a creche—a place where dogs may be left during the day and be collected in the evening. True dog lovers may prefer to set up such a dog creche within the community in order that the dogs may be cared for properly.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a great difficulty in inner city areas arises from the persistent barking of dogs? If so, does he believe that the existing legislation can cope with that problem?
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) has put his finger on a real problem affecting dogs living not in the countryside and shire areas but in inner cities. Paddington is an area where the problem can arise. The Bill will not assist, because one of two things can happen. The dog may be allowed out in Paddington Green, in which case it may cause a mess, not return to its home and get locked out. If it is left in the house, it may start to bark and cause an immense amount of noise. The Bill does not cover that. If the dog is left in the house, no one can do anything about it.
|Aspinwall, jack||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Atkinson, David(B'm'th, E)||Cunningham, G(Islington S)|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Dobson, Frank|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Dover, Denshore|
|Barnett. Guy (Greenwich)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Blackburn, John||English, Michael|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)||Evans, loan (Aberdare)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Rhodes James, Robert|
|George, Bruce||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Ginsburg, David||Sandelson, Neville|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Shersby, Michael|
|Hardy, Peter||Silverman, Julius|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas(Gr'th'm)||Snape, Peter|
|Horam, John||Soley, Clive|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Speller, Tony|
|Kerr, Russell||Stainton, Keith|
|Knox, David||Stevens, Martin|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Straw, Jack|
|McCartney, Hugh||Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)|
|McWilliam, John||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Marlow, Antony||Waller, Gary|
|Mitchell, Austin(Grimsby)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Pitt, William Henry||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. Christopher Murphy and|
|Prior, Rt Hon James||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.|
|Thorne, Neil(Ilford South)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Williams, Rt Hons Mrs(Crosby)||Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies and|
|Mr. John Wheeler|
As I was saying until I was interrupted, I am opposed to the Bill. Many hon. Members are opposed to the cost of any system being borne by the local authority. There should be a national scheme. It is not right that the cost should fall on dog lovers and dog owners. The cost should be met by the whole of society through a national scheme. Unnecessary powers through the creation of what is virtually a dog detective force will be created. Unnecessary powers will also be given to dog wardens.
Those are some of the reasons why I believe that the
Bill is misguided in the way that it is drafted. That is not to say that we do not need better education about the care and control of dogs. That can be done by consultative and educative processes. I hope that the Government will introduce measures along those lines. It would not appear possible to make amendments upstairs——