The hon. Gentleman has just explained clearly why such a prohibition would be rubbish. He said it may not be possible to prohibit the cross-breed; it may be possible only to prohibit the pure breed. At that point, no pure breed will be imported, only cross-breeds, which are not caught by the prohibition. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman will have achieved a prohibition which applies only to pure breeds and has no relevance to cross-breeds simply because cross-breeds are not capable of definition in law. That is the problem.
Let me embark upon a consideration of the other interesting argument advanced by the hon. Gentleman:that we should set up some licensing system which would enable somebody—I shall explore who in a moment—to give or to deny specific individuals the right to own certain classes of dog. That is another proposition to which the hon. Gentleman referred obliquely, which, on occasion, has been canvassed publicly by others.
Let us contemplate what is being discussed. First, let us come back to the old question of, which dog? Presumably the licensing system will not apply to all dogs. Or are we to have a licensing system that applies to all dogs, so that a person has to go to somebody before he can buy a pekinese? I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman is recommending that. Therefore, we start from the proposition that the licensing scheme which the hon. Gentleman is considering applies only to some classes of dogs. What classes? We are back to where we started. What is to be done about cross-breeds, half-breeds and quarter-breeds? The answer is that dogs cannot be defined in such a way that they are capable of identification in statutory terms. If the parentage is altered to some degree, a different animal will be created. Therefore, that approach is clearly unsustainable.
The next question—although one does not need to deal with it because the premise is unsound—is, who will be responsible for the licensing? I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will not tell me that the overworked police force should he responsible for licensing. Goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands of people would apply to possess a variety of dogs—for example, alsatians, dobermans, collies or mongrels. Who will grant the licence? Will it be the police, the local authority, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in your spare time? Those are the kinds of questions that one must ask oneself before advancing such a policy.
What about the criteria? Let us assume that dogs to which the licensing procedures apply can be defined and that somehow some long-suffering village constable can be prevailed upon to issue licences in his village. What standards is he to apply? Are they to have regard to the comfort of the dog or the comfort of the house where the dog is to live, to the character of the owner or to the purpose of use?