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I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the public from some aspects of dog nuisance by the introduction of limited controls.
May I say how appropriate it is that I should follow the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud). I mean him no harm.
As any hon. Member who has put his head into the kennel and involved himself in canine politics will know, he is asking for trouble, if only from his secretary, who will be deluged and overwhelmed by a Niagara of correspondence. Canophilia and canophobia are both very powerful emotions because most of us consider, quite rightly, the dog to be man's best friend.
It is easy to underestimate the concern, the inconvenience and the downright nuisance caused by stray and latch key dogs which are spawned by a minority of irresponsible dog owners. We can all imagine—perhaps some of us even remember—the terror of an elderly person or a child out on an errand who is suddenly confronted by a wild and unpredictable Alsatian. We should also consider the problems facing a blind person walking in one of our inner city parks and not knowing what each footfall may bring or how to cope with the filthy result, or a mother taking her child to school or to the local shops dancing along the pavement, not from joy but from hygienic necessity. Imagine the hell of living next door to an ill-treated dog yapping and howling every one of 24 hours. Imagine what it must be like to be a teenager on the threshold of adult life who suddenly discovers that he is losing his sight in one eye which is affected by toxicana canis from someone else's uncared-for dog.
The Government have long been aware of the problems and of the depth of public concern. The facts are that each year 10,000 farm animals are savaged, two-thirds of which die. More than 100,000 bitten patients are treated in our hospitals each year. Hundreds of thousands of ill-fed, unkempt, miserable strays are, sadly, put down. Fifty cases are known each year of severe eye damage from toxicana canis, and the total is probably much more.
So far, the Government have not seen fit to act, constrained by a variety of political considerations, some good. Certainly it may be imprudent, and I hope uncharacteristic, for this Government to increase directly the burden of central levies and taxation and to establish a centralised bureaucratic apparatus for the control of dog nuisance, but there is a way forward. The problem is very much local. In some areas there is a much greater problem than in others. In some areas the perception of the problem and the solution which could be required would be quite different from that in other areas.
I believe that the solution is to let local communities decide. I suggest, first, that we should do away with the anachronism whereby the police are responsible for strays. I am sure that the Police Federation and chief constables would be delighted. The responsibility should be transferred to district authorities, but it would be wrong to burden any institution with duties without giving it the wherewithal to carry out those duties.
I propose that we should have a flexible licence, running, say, between £1 to perhaps £8, £9, or even £10, with the level of the licence to be decided by each district authority within its own area and all the money so raised to be spent on the control and welfare of dogs. I believe that there should be an exception for the blind, for whom a licence should be free and, certainly, there should be safeguards for pensioners.
At the lower level, there would be sufficient funds to administer the system and to provide a register of licensed dogs. At the higher level, it would be possible to sustain a regime of dog wardens with responsibility for the control of strays, for enforcing the licence take-up — at the moment only half the dogs in this country are licensed — and for seeing that the streets and parks are kept clean from the foul mess that they currently have on and in them.
We would be able to organise and supervise kennels for the welfare and the recycling of stray dogs. We would be able to provide special provisions for dogs, particularly in our parks. I believe that such a solution would be acceptable to the Association of District Councils, as it would be to the RSPCA. Most responsible dog owners would be happy to pay a higher licence fee to reduce the hardship and the cruelty suffered by so many of our dogs, and to enable us to take action against the irresponsible owners who besmirch the reputation of dogs as a whole.
One final point. Many dogs are bought on impulse—the appealing puppy which is purchased for the family at Christmas often becomes a savage stray by summertime. I think that the more deliberate purchase of a pet would ensure the better keeping and looking after of that pet. I therefore believe that it would be appropriate to ensure that a licence is acquired before the dog is acquired.
The measure is concerned with the welfare of dogs and the peace of mind of our people. I ask for its support.
I rise to oppose the Bill. I declare my interest immediately. My wife and I own a dog, although I suspect that the dog owns us. There are no problem dogs—there are only problem owners.
I am utterly opposed to the recycling of dogs, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire, North (Mr. Marlow). The Bill is part of my hon. Friend's campaign to bring into Great Britain the terrible Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, which is draconian, and anti-dog. Under that order, dogs causing apprehension can be destroyed. On that basis, there would not be many left.
As to my hon. Friend's crackpot suggestion that we should let local authorities decide the level of the dog licence, between £1 and £10, that would be a bureaucratic dream or a bureaucratic nightmare. Are we really suggesting that we should have the situation where Mrs. Jones' dog on one side of the road pays £10 and Mr. Smith's dog, on the other side of the road, pays only £l?
The measure is ill-considered. It would be unfair on all dog owners. I repeat—there are no irresponsible dogs, only irresponsible dog owners.
I accept that of the 6·5 million dog owners a small minority do not keep their dogs under control but allow them to foul the pavements or to run wild, which is utterly unacceptable in our society. They should be fined very heavily indeed. If, in all our constituencies, every irresponsible dog owner was fined £50 for fouling the streets — [Laughter.] That would be £50 for the dog and, if necessary, £100 for the owner. That would solve the problem overnight.
Let us abolish the dog licence. We do not want a Swansea for dogs; a Swansea for vehicles is bad enough. Let us have stringent byelaws to penalise those who do not keep dogs under control.
Dogs provide companionship and comfort for millions of our fellow citizens. It may seem incredible, but there is strong medical evidence that they provide great benefits. A person is less likely to have a heart attack if he owns a dog, he will make a quicker recovery from illness and there are many other benefits. The proposed Bill will solve nothing. It is a bureaucrat's dream. I ask the House to reject it.
|Division No. 49]||[3.40 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Alton, David||Freud, Clement|
|Anderson, Donald||Garrett, W. E.|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Ashton, Joe||Gourlay, Harry|
|Barron, Kevin||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Batiste, Spencer||Greenway, Harry|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Gregory, Conal|
|Beith, A. J.||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bell, Stuart||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bennett, A. (Denfn & Red'sh)||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Hayward, Robert|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hicks, Robert|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Hind, Kenneth|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Holt, Richard|
|Boyes, Roland||Home Robertson, John|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
|Caborn, Richard||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cartwright, John||Hunter, Andrew|
|Chapman, Sydney||Irving, Charles|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Clay, Robert||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Cohen, Harry||Kennedy, Charles|
|Coleman, Donald||Key, Robert|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Coombs, Simon||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Couchman, James||Knowles, Michael|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Knox, David|
|Crowther, Stan||Lamond, James|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lightbown, David|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Litherland, Robert|
|Dicks, T.||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Dixon, Donald||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dobson, Frank||Lord, Michael|
|Dubs, Alfred||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n SE)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Evennett, David||Maclean, David John.|
|Fallon, Michael||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Favell, Anthony||McTaggart, Robert|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Maples, John|
|Flannery, Martin||Marek, Dr John|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Marlow, Antony|
|Foster, Derek||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Fox, Marcus||Martin, Michael|
|Maxton, John||Soley, Clive|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Speller, Tony|
|Merchant, Piers||Spence, John|
|Mikardo, Ian||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Steen, Anthony|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Needham, Richard||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Norris, Steven||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Thurnham, Peter|
|Ottaway, Richard||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Park, George||Viggers, Peter|
|Penhaligon, David||Wainwright, R.|
|Pike, Peter||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Powley, John||Wallace, James|
|Price, Sir David||Walters, Dennis|
|Raffan, Keith||Ward, John|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Wareing, Robert|
|Robertson, George||Watson, John|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Weetch, Ken|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||White, James|
|Rowe, Andrew||Whitfield, John|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Wilson, Gordon|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Sheerman, Barry||Woodcock, Michael|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Shersby, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sims, Roger||Mr. Jack Aspinwall and Mr. Den Dover|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Ashby, David||Michie, William|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Campbell, Ian||O'Brien, William|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Radice, Giles|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Redmond, M.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ellis, Raymond||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Farr, John||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gale, Roger||Stern, Michael|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Tracey, Richard|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Walden, George|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Welsh, Michael|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Mr. Andrew Bowden and Mr. Matthew Parris.|