It is a matter of interpretation. It might be of assistance to the House if I were to go through the Act at some length. That would enable the hon. Gentleman to form a view.
The primary section of the Guard Dogs Act is section 1. It might be helpful if I refresh the memory of the House as to the terms of that section. Section 1(1) of the Guard Dogs Act 1975 provides:
A person shall not use or permit the use of a guard dog at any premises unless a person ("the handler") who is capable of controlling the dog is present on the premises and the dog is under the control of the handler at all times while it is being so used except while it is secured so that it is not at liberty to go freely about the premises.
Section 1(2) continues:
The handler of a guard dog shall keep the dog under his control at all times while it is being used as a guard dog at any premises except—(a) while another handler has control over the dog; or (b) while the dog is secured so that it is not at liberty to go freely about the premises.
Subsection (3) provides:
A person shall not use or permit the use of a guard dog in any premises unless a notice containing a warning that a guard dog is present is clearly exhibited at each entrance to the premises.
It is important to bear in mind that a guard dog has a narrow definition for the purposes of the Act. That definition is to be found in section 7:
'Guard dog' means a dog which is being used to protect
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the Guard Dogs Act would apply to a dog which is used to guard domestic premises. That is a matter of interpretation, but my initial response—I do not pretend that I am expressing more than a layman's view—is that it could do. If a person was using a dog for any of the purposes set out in the interpretation section of the Act, it might well be that, notwithstanding the fact that the premises being guarded were domestic rather than commercial, the dog would be a guard dog for the purposes of the Act. Ultimately, that is a matter for the courts. I can only give a not particularly well informed view, but that is my view. It is a matter for the House to reflect upon, and it may be that the Guard Dogs Act 1975 would apply.