Orders of the Day — Cornwall County Council Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 25th July 1984.

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Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.;[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

7 pm

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

I submit that the Bill should not be considered. It is a measure which seeks exceptional powers, especially in respect of dogs and their right of access to beaches. I speak with some knowledge, as I represent part of a seaside constituency. I am not unaware of the problems that dogs can create. It is sad that a minority of dog owners allow their animals to behave in an unsocial and unreasonable way, to foul the pavements, to run loose in the roads and to behave unreasonably on our beaches.

The House is being asked to approve a Bill which will give draconian powers to Cornwall county council and the district councils which will implement it. I have no doubt that the sponsors will argue that the district councils in their areas will behave reasonably and that they do not want to apply draconian powers, but if the Bill passes through Parliament and takes its place on the statute book, future district councils will be able to take extensive and unprecedented steps to prevent dog owners from taking their dogs on to the beach, whatever the sponsors and the representatives of the present district councils may say.

I accept that there is a strong argument for saying that areas of the beach that are not affected by the tide twice every 24 hours, except in unusual circumstances such as excessive storms and freak weather, should be treated in the same way as a pavement or a road, However, it is not accceptable to the House and millions of individuals that the section of beach between the high-water mark and the low-water mark, which is washed perfectly clean twice every 24 hours, should not be available freely and openly to dog owners to enable them to exercise their dogs. I note that an exception is to be made for the blind. Unfortunately, we live in a rather violent and unpleasant age. Many of the elderly are nervous about being on their own and regard a dog as a protector. There are many people who choose to go out walking or to go on the beach early in the morning or late at night and they feel much more secure——

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

I am sure that Cornish people are not that much different from the rest of us in the United Kingdom. They are part of the United Kingdom. I cannot believe that the problems that are faced in many other parts of the United Kingdom do not appertain to some degree in Cornwall. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) is in his place. I know that there has been considerable trouble in some parts of his constituency at certain times of the year.

Photo of Mr David Penhaligon Mr David Penhaligon , Truro

That is when the English go there.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

I suppose that that is a cry for UDI for Cornwall. The Bill comes near to asking for that. We have read in recent years of unpleasant violent incidents in parts of Cornwall, North. There has been violence on the beaches in that area. I remember a case in which a young man was pursued in the beach area by a gang of youths. He fell over a wall and was killed. That happened quite recently.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

My hon. Friend is a highly intelligent person and he knows what I am getting at. I am saying that the elderly, for example, will feel much more secure in having a dog with them on the beach.

Research has shown clearly that individuals and dog owners feel physically and emotionally more secure if they have a dog with them when they are out on their own. To deny such people the right to take their dogs on to a substantial section of the beaches of Cornwall would be quite wrong. If the Bill becomes the law of the land, other authorities, especially those which are represented by a substantial number of anti-dog Members, will be faced with pressures from well-organised groups which campaign against dogs.

You would be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at some of the unpleasant letters which I have received from individuals who are pathological in their hatred of dogs. Some say that dog owners should pay licences of £50 or £60 annually and should not be allowed to take their dogs out of their homes or gardens. There are even those who argue that all dogs should be incinerated and wiped out. That is an extremist view and I am not suggesting that the distinguished and elected members of the district councils of Cornwall or of the Cornwall county council would follow it. However, we know that there is a powerful and well-organised lobby which is campaigning actively against dogs. They welcome the proposals in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

The hon. Gentleman has referred to some rather disturbing letters which he has received. Can he recall whether any of those letters came from Cornwall?

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

Yes, a number did. I admit that the majority of letters came from areas outside Cornwall. It was significant that some writers who live outside Cornwall told me, "We shall start a movement and a campaign within our own county council areas to have Bills presented to the House so that we can have the same powers in our areas as those that are being sought by Cornwall." I feel sure that in East Sussex and in other coastal counties a tiny handful of extremist dog haters will get together and form a forceful lobby to put pressure on the county and district councils to ask Parliament to approve legislation on similar lines in their areas. The Bill should not be proceeded with. It would establish some dangerous precedents.

I have only just begun to develop my arguments. Let us consider the report from the Committee on Unopposed Bills. In reporting to the House, the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means said: The Bill in some respects gives powers relating to police, sanitary and other local government matters in conflict with, deviation from, or in excess of, the provisions or powers of the general law; and the manner in which the Clauses relating to those matters have been dealt with is set forth in Appendix (A). That is comforting. I am sure that we are all familiar with the details of appendix (A). However, I am somewhat disturbed by the final paragraph of the report, which reads: There are no other circumstances of which, in the opinion of the Committee, the House should be informed. I am loth to make remarks that could be interpreted as criticism of that distinguished Committee, but I wonder how deeply the Committee looked into the implications of the proposals in the Bill. Let us look at them in more detail.

On page 1 of the Bill, in the first paragraph, we read that it is designed to confer further powers upon the local authorities of that county; and for other purposes. There are large parts of the Bill which I am sure will be of great benefit to the people of Cornwall. I do not wish to be unreasonable. I do not wish to take up the time of the House unnecessarily or to obstruct the passage of some important clauses in the Bill. However, I suggest to the promoters that they might, in the time that remains to them, consider withdrawing the clause to which I so strongly object. If they were to do so I should be only too happy to give the Bill my blessing. I know that I speak for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), too.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

The hon. Gentleman will recall that, in a similar case, the councillors of Bournemouth council saw the sense of the arguments—which, as they said, were evenly balanced—and, in order to allow the Bill to proceed, withdrew their attempts to keep dogs off some beaches for part of the year.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

It is true that the standards of the councillors of Bournemouth council are very high. Bournemouth has always had outstanding representatives. The town has always sent distinguished Members to this House, and I have no doubt that those hon. Members have guided and advised the council on many occasions. It may be that on this occasion the council was advised by the town's Members of Parliament and wisely took that advice.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

Should not the hon. Gentleman explain to the wise councillors of Cornwall that, since the Bill was prepared, the Government have promised to bring in new legislation on the dog licence? Apparently they are obliged to do so because of the abolition of the halfpenny, which appears to be having a considerable effect on legislation. That legislation may be hotly contested in the House, because there may be reluctance to support the degree of decentralisation to which the Government may be committed. Should not the councillors pay heed to the hon. Gentleman and withdraw their proposals on dogs until we see what the Government have in mind?

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

The hon. Gentleman's intervention is most powerful. I am sure the House agrees that the present level of the dog licence is ridiculous. The licences cost twice as much to administer as they bring in. That is crazy. However, the Government have not yet made a firm commitment. I believe that Ministers at the Department of the Environment are already feeling a little twitchy about the reactions to the Government's proposals. We are now assured that there will be a discussion document. The House loves discussion documents, and indeed I sometimes think that there should be more of them. I am sure that the Department of the Environment will take careful note of the opinions expressed on that document. I should certainly like to see dog licences swept away.

In all seriousness, I believe that irresponsible dog owners should be heavily fined. One cannot expect the police—with all the pressures upon them—to spend hours filling in the forms and taking to court people who have allowed their dogs to behave in an unsocial and unreasonable way, when those owners are fined only £2 or £3. If there were a minimum fine of £30, £40 or more for a first offence, and £100 for a second offence, I believe that the problems of fouled pavements and dogs running wild and loose on the road—problems which are all too familiar in Brighton and throughout the country—would disappear overnight. The promoters of the Bill, and the House, would be wise to listen to the advice of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). I urge them to take what he has said into account.

I note that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is listening attentively. I hope that he will be able to recommend to the House that the clause to which I take objection should be withdrawn. I know that he will want to take other factors into account. It is a pity that there is no Minister on the Treasury Bench from the Department of the Environment. However, I see that one of the Whips is present. Perhaps it will be possible for a Minister from that Department to come and listen to the debate, because it is closely related to the trend of Government policy. I see that the Whip is leaving the Chamber. No doubt he is heading for the telephone to try to arrange for a Minister to come here from the Department of the Environment. If that is the case, I apologise for disturbing the Minister's dinner. He might not be pleased with me, but I am only acting in what I believe are the interests of the House.

The Bill is like the curate's egg. There are some splendid parts to it. Indeed, some are so good that I almost did not oppose it. I welcome clause 13, which deals with street numbers. They are important. Much frustration and inconvenience is caused by people who do not have clear numbers on their homes. Their absence makes life difficult for postmen. I am not suggesting that we should pass special legislation to make postmen's lives easier, although they do an excellent job and we should do everything possible to help them. Street numbers are also important for the emergency services. If an emergency arises, an ambulance driver could easily miss an obscure name or number and the result could be loss of life.

I take the strongest objection to clause 19. Schedules 1 and 2 suggest that the Bill., if passed, should be known as the Cornwall County Council Act 1983 and come into effect on Easter day 1984. unless I am completely mistaken, that smacks of restrospective legislation.

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne

I do not wish to interfere in my hon. Friend's fascinating dissertation, which is one of the best introductory speeches on the qualities of the Bill that I have heard, but one of the amendments proposed by the promoters covers the fact that Easter 1984 has already passed and makes Easter 1985 the commencement date.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

That is splendid news. However, I must restrict my comments to the Bill as it stands. The amendment to which my hon. Friend referred might not be approved. At the moment, a dog that was seen last month doing something that it should not have done on a beach, as suggested by the Bill, could be acted against. Governments of all political complexions have passed retrospective legislation. The House does not like it and, as it stands, the Bill is retrospective.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

If my hon. Friend examines schedule 2, he will find that it rules out completely the circumstances that he has just described.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

It warms my heart to hear my hon. Friend's interpretation of schedule 2. I look forward to the sponsors confirming it. It is unacceptable if there is any chance of circumstances such as I have outlined occurring and an innocent dog owner being penalised.

I have already touched on my most serious point, which is the companionship and protection that a dog provides. I do not doubt the sincerity of Cornish councillors, but we must consider how the powers that the Bill provides could be interpreted and used. Once the Bill is on the statute book, the House will have no control over councillors. We all know how low are the polls at local elections. The polls in Cornwall might be as low as 20 per cent.

Photo of Mr Robert Hicks Mr Robert Hicks , South East Cornwall

My hon. Friend should do his homework.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to give me a figure. I am open to correction and do not pretend to be an expert. I should be surprised if the poll was 40 per cent., which is still deplorably low. When my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) contested his seat at the general election and was returned, yet again, with a thumping majority—may he remain in the House for many years to come—he was not elected on a poll of 40 per cent. I suspect that it was much nearer 80 per cent. We should have such polls at district council elections, because councils would then truly reflect the opinion of local people. The danger is that a small, well-organised minority, perhaps of dog haters, will run a campaign, put up candidates and influence the councils to apply the Bill in the most draconian way.

That could have an appalling effect upon many individuals who want to walk their dogs in peace, with reasonable security and free from fear, which is what dogs can often provide in such circumstances. That could well be denied to many citizens of Cornwall and to others as well. What about those who visit Cornwall? I hope that the promoters of the Bill will take that into account. If the Bill goes onto the statute book, people who are thinking of taking their dogs to Cornwall for a holiday will suddenly realise that their dogs could be affected by the Bill. So they will say that they will go not to Cornwall but to Brighton, although it would be wrong of me to exploit that during the debate.

Photo of Mr Gerrard Neale Mr Gerrard Neale , North Cornwall

My hon. Friend always advances a sincere argument. It would truly be understood were he speaking about a Bill affecting Sussex. Knowing, as I do, that he occasionally spends his holidays in Cornwall, I hope that when he next comes down he will do so incognito. I rather suspect that, having made the speech that he is now making, his welcome will be less than favourable. Bearing in mind that Cornwall has about 326 miles of coast line, with much of which I am aware he is well acquainted, how does he conceive that it will be possible, other than on a few designated beaches, to have limited access to effect the sorts of draconian controls about which he is talking? It should be borne in mind that the Bill has received considerable support from various local parties and organisations. As the Member for Cornwall, North I have not had one letter or comment against the Bill.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

My hon. Friend knows well that one of the great difficulties that we face when discussing legislation is that the vast majority of people who will be affected by it are not aware of it at that time. However, when the Bill becomes an Act and people start to see how it applies or could apply to them, often, as I am sure other hon. Members will confirm, we hear their reactions and discover the comeback.

I have had some pleasant holidays in my hon. Friend's beautiful county and I look forward to other holidays in the years ahead. My hon. Friend is much younger than I. If at some time in the future the people of Brighton, Kemptown decide to dispense with my services, or if I retire, I may consider living in Cornwall in my declining years. If I did so, I should not consider it for long, because of my dog. I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the district councils, but what worries me is the way in which the powers could be used in the years ahead. I believe that my hon. Friend will concede that point. Certain procedures will have to be undergone, but they could be used in many ways which, in the longer term, could well be detrimental to the county of Cornwall.

Schedule 1 is headed: Section 3 of the Dogs Act 1906 as having effect in accordance with section 18 (Control of Stray Dogs) of this Act." Section (5) says: No dog so seized shall be given or sold for the purposes of vivisection. An earlier part of the schedule outlines how the seizure will be carried out. It greatly concerns me that that is all that is said. I should like to hear from the promoters what steps will be taken to ensure that that cannot happen, because there are far too many cases of animals being stolen or taken and supplied to laboratories or individuals for experiments and vivisection.

I do not want to exploit your goodwill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall not enlarge on the arguments against and the problems of vivisection. However, I think that the House will agree that far too many experiments on animals are undertaken every year in Britain and that many of them are unnecessary and cruel. I welcome the recent decision by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a substantial sum available for research for FRAME — Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments—so that more methods can be evolved to eliminate the need for using a high percentage of animals for experimentation on a weekly and monthly basis. How will the promoters of the Bill ensure that if it becomes law any animals taken under the terms of the Bill will not in any circumstances end up in a laboratory where they could be experimented upon and, as in so many cases, cruelly treated?

Schedule 3, page 34, makes fascinating reading and I suspect that it was drafted by an individual or group of people with bureaucracy in mind. The schedule deals with the control of surf boards. It says: No person shall use, or cause or permit any other person to use, a surf board within the district unless that surf board is registered with the district council Goodness me — registering surf boards! I wonder whether that has been costed. I shall not be unfair and say that it sounds like a Utopian Socialist dream, but it sounds like a Utopian bureaucratic dream. Where will it end? We already have a Swansea for cars. Some people would like a Swansea for dogs. Will Cornwall really set up a Swansea for surf boards?

The schedule becomes even more incredible when it stipulates that, alternatively, the surf board in question may be registered with another district council within the county, or with any other council outside the county which operates a scheme accepted by the district council as substantially similar to this scheme. I used to be a computer salesman. I only wish that I manufactured computers, in view of the potential market for a network of computers dealing with surf boards, from Cornwall to Northumberland.

Presumably, if I take my surf board to Cornwall I may be approached by a district council official wishing to know whether my surf board is registered. As I should not dream of using an unregistered surf board, I should then give details of my name and address, the district council in my area, the name of the town clerk and perhaps even the full reference number of my surf board. I might even have the permit itself tucked inside my bathing costume, because Members of Parliament must be scrupulous in observing the law in every way.

The official will then have to check the matter. Will he return to his office, feed the information into a computer and wait to see what comes out? How long will that take? Shall I have to wait on the beach, holding my surf board but unable to use it until I have been cleared? The schedule must be re-examined extremely carefully, because it is simply not practical.

I have outlined briefly and sketchily one or two of my objections to the Bill and I look forward to hearing the answers to my points. Whatever the weaknesses of the Bill, however, I do not wish to destroy it. I repeat, therefore, that if the provisions relating to dogs and their access to beaches are withdrawn I shall be prepared to overlook my objections to other parts of the Bill and to agree that it should become law.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington 7:43 pm, 25th July 1984

It may be a risky thing to do, but I must confess that I have been going to Cornwall for my holidays since I was a boy and I have grown very fond of the place. I used to go on a bicycle. Nowadays I go by train or by car. I am familiar with places such as Gorran Haven, Mevagissey and Fowey. I say that so that there shall be no misunderstanding about my reasons for opposing the Bill.

I do not say this as a criticism of the promoters, but I am puzzled about the introduction of the Bill. This is an extremely over-governed country and we try to do far too much governing from here. Many matters in the Bill in other circumstances would be far better left to the district councils. I do not believe that considering a succession of Bills of this kind represents the best use of parliamentary time.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) was kind enough to allow me to intervene to remind him and the House that after a long exchange the promoters of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill saw the wisdom of seeking to withdraw similar provisions relating to dogs on beaches. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) forcefully argued, the Government have made it clear that they are considering legislating for the control of dogs in general. That being so, nothing would be lost if the provisions in this Bill were withdrawn. The Government have said, broadly, that they intend to give local authorities extensive powers to control dogs. Awaiting the Government's proposal would thus achieve greater uniformity and render the provisions of clause 19 unnecessary.

There is also weight in the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Kemptown that clause 19 will affect people who would otherwise wish to take their holidays in Cornwall. The documents kindly distributed to us stressed the great importance of tourism to Cornwall, and I am sure that we all acknowledge that. We are told that a spot survey in 1976 showed that at one time 114,000 visitors out of an estimated 275,000 were actually using the beaches. That is a very large number of people. Indeed, one of the attractions of Cornwall to me is that when it is raining on the north coast, the odds are that it is sunny on the south coast and vice versa, and there is no great problem in getting from one side to the other. The overwhelming majority of those holidaymakers must be "emmets" — people from outwith the county — and a substantial number of them will be bringing their dogs. As the purpose of the Bill is to keep dogs off designated beaches during the holiday season, one may infer that a large number of visitors bring their dogs on holiday as part of the family unit.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) said that he had not received any letters objecting to the contents of the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is because people often do not appreciate the effect of legislation until after it has become law? Is not one of the weaknesses of the way in which Parliament conducts its affairs the fact that people often become aware of the effects of legislation only after it reaches the statute book, and it is then that the outcry takes place? On the basis of what the hon. Gentleman has said, does he share my view that, if clause 19 becomes law, just such a reaction will follow?

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is a problem that the House faces when considering legislation, particularly legislation of this nature. Few people beyond those immediately concerned, who are generally the promoters and those with whom they work, know that these things are happening.

If the clause remains in the Bill, it is likely that families who have booked holidays in Cornwall, having decided to take their dogs with them, will arrive at the places at which they are staying and exclaim, "Yippee, it's a nice day. Let's go down to the nearest beach," only to find that it is a designated beach on which dogs are not allowed. They will have no means of knowing that before they arrive in the county. It cannot be in the best interests of Cornwall county council or of others concerned with the development and encouragement of tourism to allow that situation to develop. In such circumstances, a family will often say, "If that is Cornwall's attitude, we will give it up as a place to take our holidays."

Photo of Mr Robert Hicks Mr Robert Hicks , South East Cornwall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a judgment for Cornwall and the people of Cornwall to take?

Secondly, he gave the example of a visitor taking a dog to a beach, only to find that it is a designated beach on which dogs are not allowed during summer. That is surety analogous to going to a car park on a remote part of the coast and finding it full, but that does not put one off.

Thirdly, people who live in Cornwall also own dogs, and this restriction will apply to them just as much as to visitors. Local people who own dogs are residents and voters. It is up to them to make the judgment when they elect their district councillors.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

I accept much of what the hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) says, although he cannot have it both ways. If the promoters of the Bill see fit to bring it to the House, it is the property of every hon. Member, not just of those who represent constituencies in Cornwall.

One of our concerns about the clause was precisely because Cornwall in this sense is jumping the gun, for reasons that I understand. These reasons have been well explained by the promoters, who acknowledge that there are arguments on the other side. None the less, they wish to do something different, although the Government have said that they are considering taking action at long last. No action was taken in 1975 by the then Labour Government after the report of the working party on dogs. It was too hot an issue, and it was not pursued. I acknowledge that there is a general need for the Government to act, although there may be arguments about the details of what the Government may propose.

As regards the point that the hon. Gentleman made about a car park, I believe that there is a difference between the two situations. Let us take the extreme example of the family who have gone to Cornwall by train and been met by the landlady, or caught the bus from Truro to wherever it may be, and the landlady has raised no objection to their taking the dog with them. That example is not on all fours with a person who turns up at a car park near a beach, finds it full and goes somewhere else. The family that I have described will find themselves in a pickle over their week's or fortnight's holiday, unless those promoting and supporting the Bill can assure us of some mechanism by which, when people write to request a fortnight's booking between 1 and 14 July, it can be guaranteed that whoever takes that booking draws to their attention the fact that certain beaches in the area are forbidden to dogs between Easter and October.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

If the communication is by correspondence, those responsible for replying to the applicants can frank the envelope. That is a normal way of giving information that I am sure the Post Office will find acceptable.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

I understand my hon. Friend's point. If he is saying that such franking should state, "Do not bring your dog to Cornwall"——

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

To be fair to the promoters, they are not saying that. They are seeking to confine this restriction to some designated beaches in the holiday season. I am not sure that a form of words could be devised to convey such a thought. The suggestion seems to be that, as a matter of common sense, the person running the establishment to which the family propose to go on holiday would point out the restriction when the booking is made. The family may say, "It is mum, dad and two kids, and can we bring the dog?" The people accepting the booking will know that, if they are to give true information, they must say, "We are glad to see the family, but we have to tell you that on certain dates you will not be able to go to the two nearest beaches, although there is another beach round the corner where you can go." However, that would run the risk of the family saying that they would not go to Cornwall, or would not stay in that establishment, but would find another one near a beach on which dogs are permitted.

Photo of Mr Gerrard Neale Mr Gerrard Neale , North Cornwall

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people who visit Cornwall now find the state of the beaches disgraceful? Does he also accept that only the minority of families have dogs and, by the nature of things, the Cornwall tourist agencies and hotels do not insisit that such tourists must bring dogs?

Finally, does he accept that it is clear that the opportunity is afforded to designate beaches where dogs are not permitted, but that many beaches will remain for the use of families with dogs?

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

Order. The interventions are long, and will tend to make long speeches even longer.

Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington

We are still left with the problem of how those intending to go on holiday in Cornwall will know which beaches they can visit with dogs and which they cannot. I have no statistics of how many holidaymakers visiting Cornwall take dogs with them. I readily accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the problem that arises for holidaymakers who do not own dogs as a result of the activities of the irresponsible few who allow their dogs to foul the beaches.

I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Kemptown about clause 13 and street numbers. If he had read on, he would have noted: A district council may alter the number or numbers allocated to a building, and where they do so subsections (2) and (3) above shall apply to the altered number or numbers. What I suppose to be the ambition of the promoters of the Bill, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, particularly in relation to the emergency services, could be defeated. A local authority, under clause 13, could decide to alter the numbering in a street with which everybody had been familiar for 50 years or so, thus causing some chaos and risk.

Clause 18 states: A duly authorised officer of a district council may exercise the powers in section 3 of the Dogs Act 1906". It provides that, where he sees a stray dog, he can seize it if it is not in the charge of a person. That is particularly important, because, from the evidence that I have seen provided by the promoters of the Bill, it appears that the major problem with which clause 18 is meant to deal arises from stray dogs. I acknowledge the specific problem of dogs on beaches. All hon. Members, wherever they live, will know that the major problem arises from unlicensed dogs roaming the streets. To that extent, their owners are irresponsible. Clause 18 would give Cornwall county council the power to deal with such stray dogs, whether or not they are on a beach. I am puzzled why the county council wants special powers to deal with stray dogs on beaches. Under clause 18, the council has powers to take stray dogs off a beach. The council is being selective in its proposed control policy. That is another reason why I do not think that the Bill should be considered.

Local authorities have powers under section 82 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907, which provides for general byelaws affecting the seashore, and under section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972. The county council could use those powers to deal in a fairer and more general way with the problem caused by the activities of stray and unsupervised dogs—or, one might say, of stray and unsupervised owners. I hope that the House will agree that the Bill is inappropriate.

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne 8:01 pm, 25th July 1984

I commend the Bill to the House. I have listened to the speeches by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) and I cannot help believing that they must have had an unhappy childhood. Before they went to bed at night they must have peered under the bed to see whether anyone was lurking there. Even now they must check the wardrobe to see whether monsters are hiding there. They have both over-reacted and magnified the simple intention of the Bill. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown, the nearest that we came to a reasonable contribution was in his three-minute intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Erdington.

We should not overlook the skill, determination and wide breadth that have gone into drawing up the Bill. We must not overlook the fact that it deals with many other important issues which are necessary for the smooth running, security, comfort and safety of people going to Cornwall on holiday or living there for other reasons.

It is wrong to suggest that Cornish district councillors are a load of elderly, backwoods geriatrics who get together to decide what legislation they can draw up to launch upon an unsuspecting public. It is wrong to suggest that they say one week, "Let's have an anti-dog week," and the next, "Let's go anti-topless sunbathing." The Bill reflects a balanced consensus of the Cornish district councils and Cornwall county council. The legislation gets rid of anomalies and introduces new, up-to-date and relevant legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown overlooked the fact that the Bill goes further than dealing with the numbering of streets. It provides employment opportunities. I am sure that neither my hon. Friend nor the hon. Member for Erdington would wish to obstruct a Bill that does that.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

My hon. Friend is not being fair to me. I said that I do not wish to destroy the Bill. I said that the Bill contains many good clauses. I said that I appreciate the effort and time that have been devoted to it, but will hon. Members please agree to withdraw clause 19? If that happened, everybody would be happy.

Photo of Mr David Mudd Mr David Mudd , Falmouth and Camborne

My hon. Friend is saying that he would be happy if clause 19 were withdrawn, but there is no sign that everyone would be happy. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Erdington might be the only two people who would be happy.

The Bill provides employment opportunities. It deals with the problems of smoking chimneys, the problems experienced by refuse collectors, dangerous refuse, safety for the holidaymakers using hotel swimming pools and with the dangers to which holidaymakers are exposed by the use of Malibu surfboards. I recognise that surf is not known at Brighton, so I forgive my hon. Friend for demonstrating his lack of knowledge of the danger that can be caused by the use of these instruments.

The Bill deals with specific issues which should be considered. One such issue, which may seem trivial, involves the lapsing of the Truro Port Fish Authority regulation. That will lapse on 31 July if it is not replaced.

The controversial clause 19 is not anti-dog legislation. If it is anti-anything, it is anti-irresponsible, selfish and inconsiderate dog owners who, disregarding their responsibilities to their animals, allow them to roam over the beaches causing dirt and distress to many people.

It is suggested that the measure is draconian and will result in a D-day in reverse. Apparently, the barricades and barbed wire will go up around all the Cornish beaches on the landward side to stop the poor little doggies getting on to the beaches to do what Billy Connolly would describe as their "jobbies". That is what it is all about.

Clause 19 contains inbuilt safeguards. If the district council wants to take action, it must take a decision and then advertise its decision in the local newspaper in the area of the beach which is likely to be involved. It mast allow 28 days for people to make their observations. The council is then obliged to consider representations. If it still decides to go ahead, it must publish a statutory notice in the local newspaper in no fewer than two consecutive editions and the resolution will come into force 28 days later. No hasty move can be made.

There can be no question of sealing off every Cornish beach, because many are totally wide open. Only the traditional Cornish cove with a simple path down to it can carry notices of the resolution. If the powers are granted, they will be in minority use.

The speeches so far have overlooked an important point. Any resolution can be rescinded or amended by the district council which makes the resolution. Local residents may say that they would rather the dogs that run wild were taken away. The district council has the power to do that. It has the power to grant exemptions for guide dogs, dogs for the disabled and even dogs owned by elderly people. This is not an evil, wicked or draconian measure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown has come up with an incredible and ingenious solution—"Let the dogs have their play between the high-water mark and the low-water mark." Dear, oh dear. I can visualise what will happen. Outside the cosy nook theatre at Newquay, the slipway at St. Ives, Penzance promenade or on Falmouth seafront rows and rows of little doggies will be sitting, legs crossed, with strained expressions on their faces waiting for the tide to go out. The senior doggy will fish out his tide table and Hunter watch and say, "Boys, the beach is open for the next 12 hours." How ludicrous, but how nice for the doggy who has everything—his own gold-plated diary, calendar and tidal predictions for the next year.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown knows, he is talking absolute nonsense. I do not ask my hon. Friend to accept that he is talking absolute nonsense in the Cornish context, but he knows that even in Brighton on a hot summer day as the tide begins to recede, every young child wants to go to that lovely, squelchy, wet, glistening patch of uncovered beach. My hon. Friend would say, "No, let the dogs run over it first." The point has correctly been made that it may make sense to allow the dogs to use the section of the beach where the receding tide will take the jobbies away, but the incoming tide will surely sweep them back up the beach. For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown suggested that the Bill was a form of UDI for Cornwall, and in a way I agree with him. I agree because every provision in the Bill is vital, is of essential local interest and is socially necessary to the people of Cornwall, who are represented by Cornwall county council and the Cornish district councillors who have decided that this step is necessary.

Question put, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered:

The House divided: Ayes 94, Noes 9.

Division No. 434][8.12 pm
AYES
Alexander, RichardKirkwood, Archy
Ashdown, PaddyKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Knox, David
Beith, A. J.Loyden, Edward
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)McCurley, Mrs Anna
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Benyon, WilliamMadel, David
Bevan, David GilroyMawhinney, Dr Brian
Boscawen, Hon RobertMiller, Hal (B'grove)
Boyes, RolandMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinMiscampbell, Norman
Bruce, MalcolmMoate, Roger
Budgen, NickMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Burt, AlistairMontgomery, Fergus
Butcher, JohnMudd, David
Campbell-Savours, DaleMurphy, Christopher
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Nicholls, Patrick
Cash, WilliamNorris, Steven
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cope, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Corrie, JohnPenhaligon, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Pike, Peter
Currie, Mrs EdwinaPollock, Alexander
Dorrell, StephenPowley, John
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Rooker, J. W.
Dykes, HughRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Emery, Sir PeterShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Eyre, Sir ReginaldSilvester, Fred
Fatchett, DerekSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Fookes, Miss JanetSoames, Hon Nicholas
Forman, NigelSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Forth, EricSquire, Robin
Fraser, J. (Norwood)Steen, Anthony
Freeman, RogerStradling Thomas, J.
Fry, PeterTaylor, John (Solihull)
Garel-Jones, TristanTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Glyn, Dr AlanThurnham, Peter
Greenway, HarryTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Grist, IanViggers, Peter
Gummer, John SelwynWaddington, David
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Hannam, JohnWallace, James
Hargreaves, KennethWaller, Gary
Haselhurst, AlanWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Watts, John
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Hunt, David (Wirral)Tellers for the Ayes:
Jessel, TobyMr. Robert Hicks and
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Mr. Gerard Neale.
Kennedy, Charles
NOES
Clay, RobertParry, Robert
Hardy, PeterSkinner, Dennis
Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyTellers for the Noes:
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Mr. Robin Corbett and
Marek, Dr JohnMr. Andrew Bowden
Merchant, Piers

Question accordingly agreed to.