Dog Registration

Orders of the Day — Environmental Protection Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 29th October 1990.

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Lords amendment: No. 296, after clause 134, insert the following new clause—

(".—(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for the registration, identification and control of dogs.

(2) Regulations under this section shall include, provision for the regulations to be administered by local authorities, and for the charging by them of registration fees of such amounts, and subject to such exemptions, as they may determine or the Secretary of State may prescribe.

(3) Any person who without reasonable excuse—

  1. (a) fails to comply without any requirement imposed on him by regulations under this section to register a dog, or
  2. (b) fails to comply with any requirement so imposed as respects identification of a dog,
shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.

(4) in performing their duties under this section, local authorities may enter into such agreements with any person as may in their opinion facilitate the registration and identification of dogs.

(5) No regulations under this section shall be made unless a draft thereof has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament and the Secretary of State shall lay the first draft regulations before the end of the period of two years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(6) In this section "local authority", means in England and Wales a District Council, a London Borough Council or the Common Council of the City of London, and in Scotland means an islands or district council.")

Read a Second time.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to take the following: Government amendments (e) to (g) and (a) to (d) to the new clause; Lords amendment No. 299, and the Government motion to disagree; and Lords amendment No. 436 and the Government motion to disagree.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

In previous debates on the subject of dogs, there has been widespread agreement that measures are necessary to deal with the problems associated with irresponsible dog ownership.

We have now placed before the House a package of measures on dog identification and straying. But we remain opposed to the idea of attempting to register all dogs in the country. That would be an expensive and bureaucratic diversion from the need to act decisively against the actual problems. In short, we want to solve the problem, not register it.

A registration scheme would be expensive—according to the RSPCA's own figures, it would cost some £20 million a year simply to administer the scheme. That sum would have to be spent before providing any dog wardens or kenneling facilities at all.

Photo of John Smith John Smith , Vale of Glamorgan

Surely the whole point about the dog registration scheme is that it would be self-financing?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, he will hear me demonstrate that a dog registration scheme is an extremely inefficient way to raise money for providing dog control services. As I have said, if one takes the RSPCA's figures, £20 million a year would be diverted not into providing wardens and kennelling facilities but simply to run the scheme. Therefore, it would be entirely unproductive in dealing with the problems that exist. Registration is not an effective way to raise the necessary revenue to enforce dog control measures.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

The figure that my hon. Friend has mentioned, which is not in dispute, represents £3 per dog. Does he consider that that is excessive?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

The hon. Gentleman is assuming a high level of compliance. In Northern Ireland they have been attempting for the past seven years to enforce a dog licensing system costing only £5 a year. It is estimated that between one third and one half of the dogs in the Province have a licence. Widespread concern has been expressed in this country about the likely level of fees, especially for low-income dog owners.

Last year, the RSPCA commissioned a study from the London School of Economics. I can be forgiven, therefore, for quoting figures and sums that have come not from my Department but from an independent and authoritative study. It calculated that, with a 60 per cent. compliance rate, which I regard as highly optimistic in the light of the Northern Ireland experience, a one-off fee of £121·50 would be necessary. Alternatively, there could be a first-year registration fee of £29 and continuing annual fees. That would be a financial burden for some and a disincentive to register for others. It is the irresponsible dog owner who would be the last to comply and pay up. The law-abiding owner would therefore subsidise the irresponsible owner whose dogs create all the problems.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

The Minister refers to the experience in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that the problem of stray dogs worrying sheep has dramatically diminished in Northern Ireland due to the introduction of the scheme? Might it not be that, although some people are reluctant to register their dogs, they now make sure that they do not cause any of the nuisances in Northern Ireland that we are so concerned about?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

The number of stray dogs that have to be destroyed has not fallen. Despite the fact that the licensing system has been in operation for seven years, that pile of dead dogs that the RSPCA is so fond of showing us has been either stable or growing in that part of the United Kingdom where dog licensing has been enforced.

Photo of Mr Hugo Summerson Mr Hugo Summerson , Walthamstow

Does my hon. Friend agree with the chief environmental health officer of Belfast, who is on record as saying that, without dog registration, the problem would be a great deal worse?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

My point is that, despite the enforcement measures that have been taken during the last seven years, fewer than half the dogs are licensed. The fee is only £5. If the fee were higher, as the scheme proponents suppose it would be here, I suggest that it might be difficult to reach even those standards of compliance.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

I happened to be a Northern Ireland Minister at the time that the scheme was introduced. It was not anticipated that there would be a substantial take-up of the licence, whatever figure was set. Circumstances in Northern Ireland are such that it is very difficult for the Government to recover dues from sections of the population. The rent and rates system has been subject from time to time to rent and rate strikes. The notorious black taxis that run up and down the Falls road are unlicensed and cannot be licensed. The scheme is totally unenforceable.

Nevertheless, the experience in Northern Ireland is that the scheme has had a beneficial effect. Sheep worrying has diminished. As those who are responsible for administering the scheme are the first to state, the situation would be far, far worse without the scheme.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I would not lean too heavily on the experience in Belfast, where doubtless the conditions outlined by my hon. Friend obtain. There is no reason why compliance should not be higher in rural areas of Northern Ireland. Regrettably, in the Province as a whole, the licensing system appears to cover fewer than half the dogs.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

As the Minister who was formerly responsible for agriculture and sheep worrying, I confirm that the number of complaints is low, although it is rising. The fairer way to put it is that, during the first year of the scheme's operation in Northern Ireland, if one added together the number of animals impounded and the number of animals that owners asked to be collected, the figure came to fewer than 11,000. During the last year for which we have figures, the number of animals impounded and the number of animals that owners asked to be collected came to 17,000. Those comparative figures do not self-evidently demonstrate that licensing deals with the impounding of dogs or with the dogs that their owners no longer want to keep.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I respect my hon. Friend's point. The critical factor is how many dog wardens, kennelling facilities and vehicles are used to round up, collect and hold strays. It is exactly in order to do that that we are introducing the present package of amendments.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North 8:15 pm, 29th October 1990

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said that the Northern Ireland scheme resulted in an improvement. May I put it to the Minister that the scheme that he is suggesting would, in Northern Ireland circumstances, produce an even greater improvement? The burden of my hon. Friend's case is that his proposal is better than the Lords amendment.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

Any improvement in the situation in Northern Ireland is not attributable to the licensing system. It is due to the wardening facilities that are available in the Province.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

There is an intractable case i n my constituency which demonstrates how foolish the present regime is. In a small terraced house, there are six chow dogs and three border collies, as well as two cats. The neighbours nearly go mad. There is no law to prevent that. Such foolishness, widespread in many areas, would be deterred if people had to contribute to a sensible scheme. I have a file about the case, but I can do nothing about it. I know that similar cases occur in many other areas.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

The owner of the six chow dogs might resent having to register and pay the full fee when it is not those dogs that create the problem.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

To refer to the position in Northern Ireland, I have spoken personally today to the chief dog warden for Belfast city council. He assured me that Belfast welcomes licensing and regards it as absolutely essential if the council is to carry out its job properly. Is the Minister suggesting that that man is an incompetent fool?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

My hon. Friend has drawn attention again to Belfast. I had not intended to lean too heavily on the experience of that one city, with its particular problems. The Government's duty, however, is to consult more widely and to talk to others, apart from the people who are employed to do the job in Belfast. We sent over officials to discuss the matter with the USPCA and local authorities and to examine statistics from a number of different sources. We concluded that the level of compliance in Northern Ireland was low and that any improvement in the stray dog problem in the Province could not be attributed to the licensing system.

As for exemptions, I have already mentioned that those who comply and pay the full fee might resent the fact that it is the irresponsible minority who create the problem who may be deterred from registering. The problem could be made worse if there were widespread exemptions. If old-age pensioners or those on income support were exempted from charges, or if there were exemptions for guide dogs or working dogs, all those animals would still have to be registered, but no income would accrue. Still higher costs could fall on the long-suffering, law-abiding owner who registers. In short, a registration scheme would be an expensive and bureaucratic way of not solving the problem.

That remains our view on dog registration, but I have always agreed about the need for action. As I said in April, and as my noble Friend Lord Hesketh said in another place, we intend to introduce measures to deal with stray dogs.

Photo of Mr Graham Riddick Mr Graham Riddick , Colne Valley

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing concern among responsible dog owners that they will have to bear the burden of this increased bureaucracy and the enormous army of dog wardens that will be required because a significant number of irresponsible dog owners will not pay their registration fee? Is he aware that the burden of my constituency mail has changed since the House of Lords voted for a registration scheme? The majority of people who now write to me are against such a scheme, and today a petition of more than 14,000 signatures has been placed in the House of Commons against a dog registration scheme. Public opinion is turning on this issue.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

My hon. Friend underlines the point that I was making about the responsible dog owner. I am aware of two large petitions that have been handed in against dog registration.

The Government always intended to deal with the problem of stray dogs, which was why last year we announced a consultation paper, "Action on Dogs". It was returned to the Department with a substantial measure of agreement. Its suggestions could not be incorporated into the original Bill as they were outside its scope, but since then the long title of the Bill has been amended in another place. It brings dog control measures clearly within the scope of the Bill, and we wish to accept that. The package of measures that we propose will, I think, tackle the problem on the ground.

Let me deal with the need for identification. Since 1930, every dog in a public place has been required to wear a collar and identification tag, with certain exemptions. Enforcement, which is split between local authorities and the police, has been extremely patchy. Amendment (g) places this duty squarely on district councils. It providces a simple, visible and immediate way of linking owner with dog and enables dogs to be returned to their owners without the need for the authorities to be involved.

I invite the House to compare that with the complexity of an electronic registration scheme, by which an implanted microchip must be read by a specialist scanner to give a number, which is then fed into a central computer to give the last recorded address of the last registered owner. We propose, instead, a practical solution to a practical problem, which dog registration does not supply.

Similarly for stray dogs; since 1906, the police have had powers to collect and hold strays and local authorities have had such powers in recent years. But no one has had the duty to collect and hold strays. We propose that this should be settled at district level. District councils will be responsible for collecting and holding stray dogs. To do that, they may employ an agent such as a dog welfare body, but they will remain responsible for carrying out their duties properly.

To encourage the public to continue to help in dealing with the stray dog problem, they will, as at present, be able to continue to take stray dogs to the nearest police station or direct to the local authority. District councils will hold stray dogs for at least seven days. If the owner retrieves the dog, he will have to pay the cost of kennelling and, in addition, a fee to defray the cost of the warden and collection service. If the dog remains uncollected, it will be sold, given away or humanely destroyed.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

My hon. Friend has given slightly the wrong impression. Will he confirm that the Lords amendment does not include anything about placing an implant in a dog and electronically monitoring it? It leaves the decision on the methods of control for further discussion at some other time.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

The national registration scheme which has been advocated by its roponents—[Interruption.] It is an inescapable part of that scheme that there should be a central computer and a means of linking a dog in any part of the country with that computer. All the descriptions and advice that I have received, certainly from the RSCPA, have been along the lines of an electronic device. I have already described how that is an imprecise and inefficient way of doing what is better done by enforcement of the collar and tag requirement.

I have already said that, in addition to paying the kennelling fee, a person collecting a stray dog will have to pay a fee towards the cost of the warden service. That will raise additional revenue, but I recognise that acting against strays in this manner, and the new obligation on district councils, will mean increased expenditure. Before implementing the package, we would need to discuss its details with local authorities and take the new duties into account in determining revenue support grant. More than 200 local authorities already employ dog wardens within existing resources, and I believe that the city of Bradford employs five.

Authorities can expect additional revenue when stray dogs are collected by their owners, who will pay a fee which will be retained by the district council. According to the LSE report, about a quarter of stray dogs are returned to their owners, so this source of revenue could be significant. It also has the great advantage that the dog owners who create the problem will pay directly for its solution, and again this is an advantage over a national dog registration scheme.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I should be grateful if the Minister would not, unintentionally I am sure, mislead the House on another matter. Not only has he not yet confirmed that the Lords amendment was a general amendment with no specific scheme allowing for regulations, but he has not said that more than 200 of the 250 local authorities which responded to his consultation favoured a dog registration scheme. The reality of his proposal—that people who turn up to collect their stray dog will pay—is that the fine will be paid after the dog has bolted, which is a ludicrous stystem. Is it not better that people pay in advance and become responsible from the moment the dog is theirs?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that an electronic tagging system is now deemed impracticable, he will agree that the collar and tag requirement provides a simpler, more immediate and more direct means of linking an owner with his dog.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I must get on. Will my hon. Friend forgive me?

In earlier debates, we promised to offer local authorities improved byelaws aimed directly at curbing dog nuisance. Last week, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office published details of such byelaws.

There are already byelaws giving local authorities the ability to require owners to clear up after their dogs, the so-called "pooper scoop" byelaw. The Home Office has now greatly extended the discretion of local authorities. They can also require dogs to be kept on a lead or banned from certain areas at certain times of the day. With the other measures against dog fouling in another part of the Bill, local authorities will have these additional clear. specific and well-targeted powers to deal with dog fouling and other nuisances in their areas.

8.30 pm

For the sake of completeness, I should remind the House that dangerous dogs were the subject of another consultation paper which we issued in June this year. Consultation on it ends on 15 November, and again we shall look for a suitable opportunity to legislate if those measures achieve wide support.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

There is no one dog problem and no one solution. I notice that the advocates of dog registration have begun to downgrade its powers. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ended a recent open letter with the rather lame statement: A national dog registration scheme is not the answer, but it is the key to a package of measures". I am proposing that package. It enforces identification, it acts directly against stray dogs; and it penalises the irresponsible owner. It does this without the need to get every dog on a computer. This evening, I invite the House to pass the measures which we propose. That will he a big step along the road to creating a more responsible dog-owning country.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

I must oppose the Government's motion and support the amendment that was carried overwhelmingly in the House of Lords a few weeks ago. I hope to be brief—unlike the Minister—because we all want to make progress, and a good number of hon. Members want to speak.

My instant reaction to this debate is to say, here we are again. It is remarkable that, once again, the greatest Government effort on the Bill so far seems to be to defeat dog registration. It is clear that the Minister was not happy with the task allotted to him. It is not very comfortable to have to argue that people will not pay to register their dogs but will pay to collect them once they have strayed. I understand the Minister's problems.

The reason why Ministers have had to make such heavy weather of this debate is not that they are not convinced of the need for dog registration. The story that Ministers at the Department of the Environment were willing to accept the Lords amendment and the Government's defeat there has not been denied. It seems clear that the reason why we are having this debate is that one person, the Prime Minister, wants to persist in her opposition. Here we are again having this debate, with the Government refusing to do the obvious and introduce dog registration.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

I remind the hon. Lady of an amendment tabled on Report to the Control of Pollution Bill in 1974 proposing a scheme for dog registration. It was not taken, but instead a working party was set up and it came forward with proposals for a dog registration scheme. Between 1974 and 1979, the Labour party had the opportunity to introduce a scheme of the kind before us. Why did not it do so?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

I think that opinion generally during those years was moving in favour of dog registration schemes. Without doubt, the problems that have arisen in the past 10 years prove that we need to do something urgently and stop the kind of talk on which the Minister has always embarked.

What we have seen from the Minister today is what we have seen from him on every other occasion. Every time we have this debate, the Whips scurry around and tell Ministers that they are not sure that they can carry the day. They ask Ministers to pull something out of the hat and whether they will have one of their famous incentives and produce yet another package. We have had consultation papers and discussion documents, everything from Ministers except what we need—a commitment to a dog registration scheme.

That happened again last Thursday, when there was a planted question and the Whips were worried about tonight's vote. The package that the Minister outlined this evening is exactly the same as all the other so-called packages: it is all wrapping and no content, not least because Ministers are extremely worried that if they concede anything, the Prime Minister will have her say and they will all be in trouble.

I see that the junior Minister had yet again been left isolated to deal with the problem.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

The hon. Lady keeps making the point that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is behind this, but she keeps forgetting that many hon. Members are wholly opposed to such a scheme because it would not work and does not address the problem.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. Every time we have had a vote, every time we have had a debate on dog registration, it has become clear that the majority of Members—Ministers apart—have always voted for dog registration.

The Minister should step back from his brief and instructions and think about the problems that are involved and that he has mentioned—of dog control, dog fouling and dangerous dogs—and ask himself why so many people are in favour of dog registration. Why are the majority of the public in favour of dog registration? The majority of Back Benchers, members of the House of Lords and dog owners are in favour of dog registration.

Many responsible organisations that have experience or expertise in these matters are committed to a dog registration scheme: the Association of District Councils, which is mainly Conservative controlled; the Battersea dogs' home; the British Veterinary Association; Child Care Concern; the Country Landowners Association; the Institution of Environmental Health Officers; the National Canine Defence League; the National Farmers Union; the National Federation of Women's Institutes; the Police Federation; and the Townswomen's Guild—not organisations that always support the Labour party. They are a cross-section of people who have had different experiences of the problems about which we are talking. I hope that Ministers will not push their concerns to one side and will not simply say that something will be done at some time. Ministers and Conservative Members should realise that it is about time we had action.

We must be absolutely clear about the content of the Lords amendment. It is a straightforward amendment, which states that a dog registration scheme should be established. It is not, as the Minister implied, a prescriptive amendment in terms of the exact scheme that has to be introduced—that is to be left to the Government, presumably after consultation with local authorities. As the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) pointed out, it is not an amendment that prescribes an electronic or tattooing scheme or any other scheme; it simply establishes the principle of the introduction of a dog registration scheme.

What is more, the amendment that was passed in the House of Lords now allows two years for the process of introducing the scheme. That followed a Government-inspired amendment, which the Opposition did not oppose, in the hope of getting the amendment on to the statute book. Before Conservative Members take note of what the Minister said about electronic schemes, they should remember that the House of Lords decision is a vote in principle for the establishment of a dog registration scheme, not any one variation of that kind. Dog registration is a pro-dog measure. It will promote better and more responsible dog ownership. It will make people think before they obtain a dog.

The Minister argues that a dog registration scheme would be extremely bureaucratic. That is rich coming from a Government who introduced poll tax registration and all the measures that went with it. The Minister also said that dog registration would be expensive.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

If, as even I acknowledge, a number of people are reluctant to pay the community charge, why should they be so keen to pay for dog registration?

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

I hardly think that the dog registration fee will be as high as the poll tax, although I am sure that Ministers could contrive to make it so if they put their minds to it. They could certainly make it as complex and bureaucratic if they so wished.

The Minister referred to the expense of introducing the scheme and, in an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) expressed his concern about the cost to local authorities of a registration scheme. I think that local authorities will have more reason to worry about coping with the problem of dog control under the amendment suggested by the Minister without the income that a dog registration scheme would provide. All the Minister's proposals will place extra burdens on local authorities and penalise those authorities that take the most action, because they will provide nothing in the way of extra resources to allow the authorities to deal with the problems that the Minister is passing on to them.

We must make a positive decision. Ministers have given us enough promises in the past. The public and the majority of dog owners will not understand if we let the problem drift further. I hope that the House will support the dog registration scheme and the amendment.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

It gives me no pleasure whatever to be at variance with the Government on the question of dog registration. With regard to the other measures that the Government propose, some are better than others, but I fear that, without dog registration, they will be largely ineffective.

If any measures are to be enforced, it is absolutely essential to establish the ownership of the dog. I do not believe that ownership can he satisfactorily established without registration. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) pointed out, the Lords amendment—like my earlier new clause—does not seek to lay down details but rather to establish the principle of compulsory dog registration with the local authorities charged with implementing it. That was done purposely because there are different ways of dealing with the details of the scheme.

Perhaps I may describe how I think the scheme would and should work. If we had a computer system, with each dog given a distinctive identification number or mark, dogs would be registered for all time. Whether that is done by collar and tag or whether by collar and tag plus an implant or tattooing is up for consideration during the two-year period that the Lords envisage. The point is that each dog would have its own distinct identity mark. That would make it very much easier for the authorities—particularly dog wardens, who would, I imagine, be the enforcement authority—to check the records and trace the owner.

In that connection, it is interesting to note the experience of Battersea dogs home, which has decided, as a matter of principle and policy, to use the implant system. It has been doing so for some months and there have been some beneficial results for dog owners who have lost their dogs and have been reunited with them very quickly. Apparently, it has also made a great difference to the way in which those who take over stray dogs and give them new homes have felt about the matter. It has made them much more responsible. They know that if they do not look after the dog and if it goes on the streets again, it can be traced back to its owner. That registration scheme in microcosm is in operation on a voluntary basis. It is an extremely interesting scheme, and I urge any hon. Members who are doubtful about the matter to go to Battersea dogs home.

8.45 pm

We also know that it is perfectly simple to set up a computer system to register all dogs. On a voluntary basis, that is happening now among owners who wish to keep control of their animals through the computer scheme organised by the Wood Green animal shelter——

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, although I do not think that he is with me on this.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

The hon. Lady knows that I share her concern for dogs and that, even if I do not necessarily agree with her approach, I respect her commitment. She was courteous enough to allow me to intervene in her speech last time we debated the matter and I asked her what she estimated the cost of registration would be. I recollect that she informed the House that it would be £2·50. Clearly, we shall have to debate these matters again during the next two years, but does she agree that if a system of identification by transponder is introduced, it will cost a great deal more than she suggested? Does she also agree that it will be resented by pensioners with their poodles and widows with their Pekinese who do not particularly want to have electric gadgets inserted into their dogs' ears or necks?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

The hon. Gentleman's recollection is correct. I said that it would cost about £2·50 and certainly less than £3 for the registration scheme alone. Much will depend on whether the transponder system is taken up and on whether we wish to load on to the registration fee some or all of the costs of the dog wardens, who will presumably act as the enforcement agency. All that is up for negotiation, but the basic cost of a simple computer registration system will be under £3 per dog per year.

There is plenty of scope for deciding what the fee might be. I should not wish the fee to be huge, for reasons that I am sure hon. Members will understand. We do not wish to discourage dog ownership or to place an onerous burden on those who cannot afford it. It would be possible to use the licence fee to introduce a differential system. For example, we might wish to encourage people to spay or neuter their animals, in which case we could charge a lower fee for those who did so and a higher one for those who wished their dogs to remain entire. That is one possibility. If we wished, it would certainly be possible to grant exemptions or charge very small amounts in the case of worthy groups such as people on income support and those with guide dogs or working dogs. Those are all possibilities. The details are not inherent in the scheme proposed in the amendment; it is merely a scheme in principle. I warmly welcome the Lords decision that we should allow two years to give ample scope for discussions with all the interested parties.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

Does my hon. Friend agree that licensing has to be considered in relation to the cost of keeping a dog and that as one cannot keep even a small dog for less than £4 a week—allowing for vets' bills, grooming and food—a licence fee of even £10 or £15 a year is not a vast amount?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

I entirely agree. However, by accepting the amendment in principle, we are not tied to some vast figure. It is perfectly possible to arrange the scheme as we wish. As it stands, the Government are asking local authorities to take on a great deal without the technical means to bring the scheme about. I am referring to the need for dog wardens, RSPCA inspectors and others to be able to trace owners and lay the responsibility on them.

It is extremely interesting that all those people who have to deal with the problem want registration to enable them to carry out their duties. For example, RSPCA inspectors have told me that they have lost cases in court or have not taken cases to court because they could not establish ownership. Dog wardens have the same problem. The inspectors, the dog wardens, the Association of District Councils and everyone who must work the system wants registration.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I agree that the identification of dogs is important. But what advantage does a registration system have over my plan for the enforcement of the wearing of a collar and identification tag? After all, a tag is a visible means by which anyone can link a dog to its owner. To the extent that an owner may refuse to place a collar and tag on his dog, he might be the same kind of person who would refuse to register in the first place, particularly as the privilege of registration will entail the payment of a fee.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

That sounds an extremely interesting and ingenious argument. I believe that collars and tags are important, but that system should be linked to a central computer scheme so that, in addition to the tag, there are details on record in a central computer where they are easily available. As I understand it, that is not what the Government are suggesting. If they are suggesting that, it is a different matter, but that is not my understanding of the Government's proposal.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

My hon. Friend emphasises the need to establish the ownership of the dog. However, as many people did not pay the old dog licence, as many people do not pay the road fund licence and as many people do not pay the television licence, what guarantee is there that the irresponsible dog owner would pay this tax?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Before I answer that, may I invite my hon. Friend to tell me whether he is advocating the abolition of all those licence fees?

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

The dog licence fee was abolished because the cost of collection was so much greater than the revenue raised. I suspect that my hon. Friend would have similar problems with this cock-eyed scheme.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Those who have been in the House for some time and have followed my views on this matter will know that I was one of those who most earnestly urged the Government in those days to increase the dog licence fee. Of course it was not working and I said that it should be reformed. We have now moved on to registration, which is an improvement. However, the scheme did not work when the cost was only 37·5p, simply because it was not worth while for the police or any other authority to press the matter. That would have been ludicrous. However, that is no reason not to have a proper registration scheme now. I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has advocated so weak an argument.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Hornsey and Wood Green

Has my hon. Friend considered that this proposition, taken to its logical conclusion, means that the House should never pass a law if that law is likely to be broken by some members of the general public?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

My hon. Friend, with his legal training, has put it excellently. Moreover, it is clear that we could divide dog owners into various groups. Some will comply with the proposal immediately because it is the law; I am not as pessimistic as my hon. Friend the Minister in thinking that that group will be very small. I believe that it will be a large group. Another group of dog owners will register if they are pressed and pushed to do so. With the kind of system that I have in mind, with dog wardens to enforce it, a large number of owners would register. That would leave a relatively small group causing the problems. However, the dog wardens would be more able to concentrate on those problems.

I suspect that in practice people who are disturbed by dogs which bark, bite or run around causing a nuisance, and who find it virtually impossible now to bring a court case against a neighbour because people must live with their neighbours—who would want to bring a court case against a neighbour with all the difficulties that that involves?—will find it easier to tell the local authority that a problem exists. That problem will then be handed over to the dog warden who will deal with it. That would be a very good and practical beneficial arrangement.

In short, there is no substitute for dog registration. I admire their Lordships for taking up the issue and I hope that we shall not be so foolish now as to throw out this amendment which their Lordships have invited us to accept.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I will speak briefly in favour of the Lords amendment, which is backed by more than 80 per cent. of dog owners, by the experience in Northern Ireland and by more than four fifths of the local authorities which were consulted.

I want to deal first with the intervention by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and the proposition that a scheme which is incapable of perfect application is better than no scheme at all. There may of course be some people who will not pay a dog registration fee, just as the hon. Gentleman implicitly concede'. that some people do not pay their vehicle excise licence fees. I did not hear him deny that we should have such a vehicle excise licence fee when invited to do so by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes). The alternative is a scheme under which the owner pays only if the dog is rounded up as a stray and then collected by the owner. To have a proper control system for dogs, we need more money than that.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

The hon. Gentleman is right to state that the question is how we pay for the warden service. We must also consider how the dog is traced back to the owner. At what charge would half the money go to the dog warden service, and not just to the cost of the registration scheme? If we had some way of tracing a stray, caught dog back to its owner, would we be required to have a last-owner liability clause? If not, someone could deny that the dog was still his.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

A last-owner liability clause would probably be necessary. On his first point, as he was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, he will know that the fee in Northern Ireland has been £5. That fee was mentioned in his own written answer on 1 March this year, when he described it—in col. 304 of the Official Report—as part of a system that was "working well". I presume that that is consistent with the accurate point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake that it may be necessary to charge £2·50 or perhaps £3 for the cost of administering the scheme. Therefore, even a £5 fee would produce almost an equivalent amount to go to the dog warden service—and, therefore, the local authority's costs in dealing with the problems arising from dogs.

There are some obvious issues with which the country must deal. We must deal, for instance, with the pollution that is caused by dogs. The Government always say that they believe in the polluter paying. The nearest we can get to that—as dogs cannot pay—is the owner paying. The logic of the Government's position is that the owner should pay. There is also the question of noise pollution—we are to have a debate on that on Wednesday. One of the obvious examples is the noise from barking dogs. Whether they are personally or corporately owned, it is much more likely that a responsible attitude would be taken if those who purchased dogs had to pay a charge in advance.

In relation to dogs that roam or stray, or are out of control, I do not dissent from the Minister's propositions that responsibility for stray dogs should be transferred from the police to the local authority, and that the control mechanism should be changed. However, the Lords amendment is not an alternative to his stray dog scheme and his change of scheme.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), for the whole of his lifetime there has been a control-of-dogs provision by way of collar and tag, which derives from the Control of Dogs Order 1930. How many prosecutions have there been in those 60 years? The answer is, very few.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

The number of prosecutions has gone up since we abolished the dog licence.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Yes, but the reality is that they are minimal. That will make only a minimal contribution to linking the dog with the owner, which is the key issue in this debate.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

There were 188 successful prosecutions last year, which I agree is too few, given the scope of the problem. The reason is that no one body has the duty of enforcing the collar-and-tag requirement. The police and the local authorities have the power to do so; what we are proposing is that local authorities should have the duty. That would give real effect to the measure, and real identification. Everyone will know that it will be enforced.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I wish that that were the case. Although there may be one enforcement agency—the local authority—without additional resources it will not be enforcing the measure. Without the money to employ the people, it will not succeed.

The Minister knows the statistics as well as I do. The example of Bradford—which he cited—shows that 95 per cent. of stray dogs are never recovered by their owners. Only one in six stray dogs that arrive at Battersea dogs' home is recovered by its owner. We will not receive the money for the local authorities by collecting stray dogs; that can only be done by means of a principle which requires people to pay when they acquire a dog, and which means a much higher revenue income for the local authorities and a much better chance of enforcement thereafter.

9 pm

We have been offered a set of measures from the Government that are limited, minimal and likely to make only a small improvement to our present system. The principled alternative proposed by the Lords allows the mechanisms to be worked out by popular debate. The Government have been once bitten by the measure at the other end of the Palace not many days ago; I should have thought that they would be twice shy, but they have been foolish enough to come back. All that I can say to Conservative Members who have expressed a strong view on this topic is that I hope they make it clear that this Parliament is no one's poodle. I hope that tonight will be the night when Parliament bites back.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

The whole House will admire my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) for the way in which she has supported the welfare of animals over the years, and the consistency with which she has been willing to put forward propositions that at times have been unpopular, to the extent that Governments have not followed them through. When she argued for an increase in the dog licence, successive Governments ducked the issue. That is why the 37·5p fee decayed in terms of value and fund raising, although it was not hypothecated to a dog warden service.

It is quite clear that there are a number of problems, one of which is stray dogs. That can be a major problem, as the hon. Members for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) could confirm. In our borough, there have been times when the postal service has been suspended because the number of attacks on postal delivery workers has made it unsafe to let them continue with their work. Many other hon. Members can confirm that, especially in some urban areas, there are problems associated with dogs straying and dogs attacking people. There is also the problem of dog mess. Many people should be more explicit in saying that the number of dogs in cities and towns is too high and needs to be reduced.

The problem lies in trying to link the problems together and whether the RSPCA has hit upon the key. I do not say that it argues that it will solve all problems; however, it argues that registration is the key to everything else. I have doubts about that.

My doubts have been confirmed by the fact that, since I gave a parliamentary answer as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office some months ago, and since I put out a press statement in the early summer, there has riot been a bark in my direction—there has not even been a woof or whimper or even a suggestion that we might get together. It strikes me that, if RSPCA officials think that their arguments are sufficient to convince someone like myself, who is obviously well known to be open-minded, they would have made some approach to me.

Let us consider why RSPCA staff were so reluctant to be involved in direct debate. They have not persuaded the other place that a particular scheme will work. The House of Lords and many other supporters of the amendment say that there is a problem and that, as the RSPCA has said that registration is the answer, therefore registration is the answer to the problems. Links have not been demonstrated.

Sometimes, people build on my parliamentary answer and say that the Northern Ireland licensing system, which is different from registration, is fulfilling its objectives. That takes us back to sheep worrying. No doubt the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) will say that this matter is not just about sheep, because he was one of the Ministers involved in the matter, and that others with Northern Ireland experience can talk also. From the figures for 1984–89, one can demonstrate that very little has changed in terms of the number of dogs that were registered, impounded and destroyed. It is not the answer to most of the problems that concern people in most of the built-up areas of Great Britain.

One should examine the number of prosecutions for animals that have bitten or harmed human beings. I do not think that the RSPCA has put forward its registration scheme as dealing with that issue, except to the extent that it may deal in part with the excessive number of animals. We need to make it unfashionable to own a dog if it is not possible adequately to cope with it and its consequences.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

It is certainly true—I do not think that, with his experience, my hon. Friend would gainsay it—that, since registration, the number of dog attacks in Northern Ireland has been dramatically reduced. My hon. Friend chides those of us who are in favour of dog registration for not making contact with him. Upon reflection, he will appreciate that we read his parliamentary answer in which he said that the scheme was working well in Northern Ireland. Naturally, we assumed that he would be consistent and join us in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

I look forward to my next invitation to speak in my hon. Friend's constituency—I shall talk about dogs instead of politics. The RSPCA has been briefing Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet North (Mr. Gale) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) saying that, because I as a Minister gave that answer, it copes with problems associated with dogs. However, it does not deal with the primary question of how to get people voluntarily to reduce the number of dogs that they keep in cities and built-up areas.

People need to answer the question of how they will cope with dog mess for a start. Each person who owns a dog needs to be able to answer to their neighbour, especially if that neighbour has children, where dog mess will be laid and whether it will be left there by the owner. People in Bermondsey, Eltham, Manchester and all urban parts of this country need to ask dog owners, "Can you answer that question?"

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I have a simple question. Does the former Northern Ireland Minister think that it will be an incentive or a disincentive to people who contemplate acquiring a dog that they might have to pay something? If it is a disincentive, it is surely likely to reduce the number of dogs in Eltham, Bermondsey and elsewhere.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

If that is the basic issue for reducing the number of dogs, the RSPCA, the hon. Gentleman, myself and others should all be saying so out loud, in the same way that the hon. Gentleman at least has the courage to give the answer which the RSPCA has not, according to my knowledge, given up to now.

For the registration scheme to work and for us to be able to track a dog back to its owner, last-owner liability will be necessary. We have had problems with such an approach to cars, and it has proved controversial. I hope that those who say that registration is the answer to these problems will have the guts to say that in public and more often, because I am not aware that they have done so. It has been one of the cosy little exclusions from the public debate.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Does my hon. Friend agree that the RSPCA has still not learned its lesson in terms of giving half or untrue statistics? One of its advertisements today states: There are still 500,000 homeless strays roaming our streets". That figure of 500,000 is taken from an RSPCA report in which the London School of Economics states that the vast majority of such dogs are not homeless strays, but "latch-key dogs" which are let out by their owners.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

Instead of "latch-key" perhaps my hon. Friend should describe them as "poop" dogs—people are embarrassed by dogs' natural functions.

It is not my aim to get at the RSPCA, because even those of us who do not recognise the merits of the registration scheme admire much of the RSPCA's work. Many of us believe that, if the RSPCA had put half the effort into its "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" campaign, as it has into this, it could have achieved a great deal more in the past few years than it has by managing to persuade some people that the answer to this problem is for the House to pass, in principle, a requirement for registration without going into the necessary details. That would be an undesirable precedent.

May I work towards a conclusion by referring——

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

I had been trying to put forward my view before the hon. Gentleman intervened from a sedentary position.

There are problems that need dealing with. I have dealt with the question of numbers. Many people who keep dogs cannot cope with them adequately. Others can cope, but are not prepared to do so. People may laugh at the pooper scoop idea, but unless people are willing to cope with the consequences of owning a dog in an urban area, they are not facing the consequences of owning a dog. The Kennel Club, dogs clubs and the RSPCA should be saying that clearly, as should pet shop owners.

In various positions of responsibility, I have had to face the issue whether an extra law would be the best way of making a difference. The greatest parallel with this issue is that of drink-driving. I do not want to go into that in depth, but in 1986 it was calculated that there were 2 million occasions per week when men would drive when above the legal limit. Many people said that that was a problem.

In politics, the conventional thing is to go from saying, "There is a problem," to saying, "They should not do it," to saying, "I should not do it", then, " I intend not to do it," to saying, "I do not do it."

The conventional way of approaching that series is to offer legislation, money transfers or exhortation. In practice, we need to get the people who are part of the problem to become part of the solution.

Between 1986 and 1988, without any change in the law, enforcement or sentencing, the number of occasions when people drove above the legal limit was reduced from 2 million to 600,000. That happened as a result of giving information and letting people realise that there were things that they could be doing. What was happening——

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shouting "Rubbish," because it is a fact.

Instead of people believing that the problem could be solved by some wishy-washy system of registration, it is better to approach the dog owners themselves and to ask them whether they are willing to do now what the law and the RSPCA are asking—without even half the cost of a registration scheme.

I hope that the House will support the Government, and that the various stages that were announced last week and those which are set out in the Government amendment will be supported. I also hope that the Lords' approach will be rejected, because it does not give the House the necessary details for a scheme that could cope with 7 million dog owners. The problem needs a better solution than that suggested by the Lords.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 9:15 pm, 29th October 1990

Much has rightly been said in the House and in another place about the Northern Ireland scheme and, of course, we have heard something of it again tonight. That is right. When I was junior Minister in the late 1970s I was engaged in the long consultative process that eventually resulted in the order which, it must not be forgotten, was introduced by the Government in 1983.

The Northern Ireland experience is central to the debate. We must examine it closely if we are to convince some of the waverers on the Conservative Benches to accept amendment No. 296. The director of the environmental health service in Belfast city council has already been referred to. He believes that the scheme works well. We also heard from the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) on 1 March this year that the scheme was working well.

We should consider some of the Government's arguments on the matter. First, they argue that the Northern Ireland scheme has failed to meet the problem of strays because the number of stray dogs put down in the Province has not decreased. Yet the Government seem not to listen to the evidence provided by the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which reported a dramatic reduction in roaming packs of dogs and strays on the streets. Indeed, Robert Wilson, the director of USPCA, has pointed out that although absolute numbers—this is where Conservative Members are confused—of impounded dogs have shown little sign of falling, wardens are collecting from a reduced pool of strays on the streets. In any case, to concentrate solely on strays can be misleading.

The main thrust for change in Northern Ireland came from the Ulster Farmers Union lobby, and rightly so. A great number of sheep were being killed by dogs and it was a worrying factor.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde

I shall not give way because of the time factor. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

Many instances of sheep worrying involved dogs owned by hitherto so-called responsible owners. Identifying the owners was a large part of the problem. Since the introduction of licensing, the Ulster Farmers Union has reported a reduction in livestock worrying. My right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) will be aware of that. That was despite a growth in the sheep flock from 1 million in 1983 when the order was introduced to 2·3 million sheep and livestock in 1989.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

A 100 per cent. increase.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde

As my right hon. Friend says, a 100 per cent. increase.

If the Government have not listened to the environmental health officers who administer the scheme, the USPCA—which deals with some of the problems caused by dogs—or the Royal Ulster Constabulary, of which the traffic division has noted a 25 per cent. reduction in road accidents involving dogs since the introduction of licensing, who have they been talking to and listening to?

The Government's main failure is in recognising the central ethos of the Northern Ireland scheme, which is a positive approach to dog ownership. The scheme seeks to support and sustain a package of comprehensive measures with the general aim of encouraging responsible dog ownership. It has at its roots a dog licensing scheme. That welcome approach is encapsulated in the amendment. The Government propose to introduce nothing further than a handful of provisions for dealing with stray dogs after an offence has been committed. In other words, they seek to deal with the problem once it exists. The approach of the amendment is to suggest a scheme that would facilitate a host of realistic measures to encourage widespread responsible dog ownership before an offence takes place.

The RSPCA sees registration as an essential element in introducing health and welfare programmes, neutering advice and effective enforcement. Furthermore, the knowledge that their dog is registered should have a beneficial effect on owners' treatment and care of their dogs. They will know that the dog could be traced back to them and that they could be held responsible. That would therefore reduce the risk of dogs being allowed to stray or to cause a nuisance in the first place. We should adopt the course tonight.

The Government have manifestly failed to listen to those with first-hand experience of the problem in Northern Ireland, but have they sought the opinion of the 200-odd authorities up and down the country that already run dog warden schemes? If my local authority, Tameside, is anything to go by, however, the Government have failed in that respect as well. If they had sought such opinion, the Government would have learned that the lack of resources available to Tameside and other authorities to finance their dog wardens is severely hampering their efforts. That is why my local authority and most others will support our efforts tonight.

The Government argue that the proposed registration scheme is an inefficient means of raising revenue for dog control services. Their amendments, however, provide no means of financing their proposals other than leaving it to local councils to find the funds in their already overstretched budgets.

In truth, the Government do not see the problem in the same way as the rest of society. The amendment is supported by those at the sharp end who must deal with the problem caused by the absence of responsible dog ownership. The only similar scheme operating in the United Kingdom is a success.

The Government should not be dragged along by the collar when it comes to introducing a dog registration scheme. They should appreciate the force of the argument put forward by those who know the extent of the problem at the sharp end. They should withdraw their amendment and promote a dog registration scheme in the interests of all responsible owners, local authorities and the public.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Mr. John Butterfill. If the hon. Gentleman should like to speak from a sitting position I will understand.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to speak from a sedentary position. I should explain that my present indisposition arises from a minor operation to my left ankle and not from being savaged by a particular breed of dog.

I address the House as a member of the general council of management of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals. I must stress, however, that I am speaking in a purely personal capacity and not on behalf of the PDSA. As a matter of principle, the PDSA does not take a political stance on any issue, unlike some other societies, although it often works in close co-operation with the RSPCA and other animal organisations.

The PDSA confines its activities to providing veterinary care to those people whose financial circumstances would otherwise prevent them from obtaining such care for their animals. As such, it does a great deal of work particularly with small animals, but the bulk of its work is concerned with the care of dogs.

It is interesting to consider why dogs come into the care of the PDSA in order to assess its relevance to our discussion. Dogs are often brought for medical attention to the PDSA because of ignorance about how to care for a dog. Another reason may well be the poverty of the owner. Poverty often dissuades people from having their dogs neutered—a desirable method of keeping the dog population down. I believe that neutering would be a far more effective means of controlling the dog population than the deterrent posed by the cost of the fee. The only way in which to reduce the dog population is to prevent dogs breeding.

Dogs also receive care from the PDSA because of problems arising from lack of inoculation—another desirable treatment that prevents disease in the inoculated dog and the spread of disease to other dogs. Dogs also receive treatment because of simple neglect, injury or other infections caused as a result of being strays.

It is important to consider the problems that arise, to see whether the registration scheme might have the effect of remedying some of them. Certainly, there is rarely a suggestion that there is a problem in identifying the owners of fierce dogs. If the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that it should be mandatory for a dog to carry a tag were taken up, and if that were enforceable by a responsible agency, that problem would be overcome.

I do not see how registration will prevent the problem of dogs straying. Dogs stray for all sorts of reasons, often simply because their owners do not take sufficient care of them. I do not see how that would be remedied by registration. In addition, I do not see how registration would prevent the fouling of public places, which will surely be prevented only by owners being more responsible for their dogs' care.

The cost of the scheme such as that proposed by the RSPCA is far greater than has been recognised tonight. I have studied the report by the London School of Economics, published in 1989 for the RSPCA, which states that the total annual cost of such a scheme would be about £40 million if the cost of wardens were included.

If we accept that the dog population is about 7 million and allow perhaps two years' inflation on that figure, it works out at about £7 a dog, but that would be only if all dogs were registered and all owners paid. I am sure that Opposition Members would wish to exempt the elderly, the blind and those in receipt of state benefits, which might reduce the number paying by half.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

I should get on.

If such exemptions were to be made, it would halve the number of people paying for the scheme and double the cost to £14 or £15. In Northern Ireland about 60 per cent. of owners fail to register, which could double the cost again and we could be talking about an effective cost of £30 a dog.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to be quite clear on this—I believe that the figures that my hon. Friend just quoted from the LSE report were based on a 60 per cent. compliance rate, not a 100 per cent. rate, as he seemed to intimate.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill , Bournemouth West

The report assumed a compliance rate that was considerably worse than that experienced in Northern Ireland. That was one reason why I questioned the figure.

I am worried that we would need an army of bureaucrats to enforce such a scheme. We would need clerks, wardens and inspectors—the latter would presumably need powers to enforce their activities. Would hon. Members be prepared to grant inspectors the right of entry into people's homes if those inspectors suspected that an unregistered dog was being kept there? I do not think that that would be particularly attractive to those concerned about civil rights.

I believe that the Government have the right answer. Their proposals for the seizure of strays and their delivery to the authorities, for the proper enforcement by responsible authorities of collar and tag, for the right of disposal of stray dogs to the finder or elsewhere if they are unclaimed and to give local authorities powers to enforce byelaws on fouling are right. My own local authority, Bournemouth borough council, has made vigorous representations about its need to have the right to produce new byelaws to deal with the fouling problem, which is particularly prevalent in Bournemouth. The other proposals that the Government have suggested that they may bring forward, such as muzzling to deal with fierce dogs, are to he welcomed. I await, as I am sure do other hon. Members, the results of the Government's consultations, which are to finish on 15 November.

There is another remedy that would perhaps do more than anything else to solve the problems that we experience with dogs—a voluntary neutering scheme for dogs. The heart of the problem is that we have too many dogs and many of them behave badly. Neutering makes fierce dogs less aggressive, male dogs much less likely to stray in search of female company and reduces the unwanted dog population. Therefore, if my hon. Friend the Minister were inclined to consider that as a possibility, I am sure that the PDSA would welcome it.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey , Vauxhall 9:30 pm, 29th October 1990

I wholeheartedly support the Lords amendment and I hope that there will now be an end to the long discussions on this issue. I pay tribute to the work not only of the RSPCA, but of an organisation that has been campaigning on this issue for a great deal longer—the League for the Introduction of Canine Control. When the issue was not as popular as it is now, many people put their heads over the parapet, but they were laughed down. The change in public opinion over many years owes much to the work and the campaigns of many organisations, not least the League for the Introduction of Canine Control. The licence fee should never have been abolished; it should have been increased. It was not, and we are paying for that.

I want to make a brief point about Northern Ireland. People will be interested to know that many hon. Members have suddenly taken an interest in Northern Ireland's handling of the issue. There is not usually so much discussion about Northern Ireland matters. In fact, the scheme has been successful, as all responsible opinion will confirm. If the Minister believes that it has been unpopular and unproductive, why does not he propose abolishing the scheme in Northern Ireland? He will not do that because he knows that the people of Northern Ireland want the scheme and that it has been successful.

I direct most of my remarks at a group of people who have been greatly affected by dogs—the 110,000 postmen and women who have been attacked many times while doing their jobs. Together with newspaper delivery boys, meter readers and so on, they visit every address in the country. The figures clearly show an increase in dog attacks during the past two years. It is astonishing that in 1989 dog attacks on postmen and women increased by 9·5 per cent. over the previous year—7,717 were attacked in the course of their duties. Those are only the recorded attacks, and they are in addition to an 18 per cent. increase in 1987.

Not only do such dog attacks cause trauma, misery and distress, but they result in many lost working days. Indeed, the number of lost working days between 1987 and 1988 increased by 45 per cent. Dog attacks were directly responsible for 4,711 lost working days—[Interruption.] I know that some hon. Members may not want to hear the figures, but they are important statistics that show the number of dog attacks on working people. Those lost working days represented 15 per cent. of all days lost through sickness and injury in the Post Office service—and they are only the reported attacks. Hon. Members should appreciate that many people do not report them.

The Union of Communication Workers has been campaigning to highlight the incidence of dog attacks. Many jokes are made about them, but in one incident a postwoman in Gloucester had her ear bitten off, and in another, a postman was so badly injured that he was compelled to seek early retirement and will need medical attention for the rest of his life.

I bet that most of the letters received on the subject by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House come from women. They have campaigned for many years, complaining that whenever they allow their children to use parks, they return with the mess left by dog faeces all over them—and I am sure that it is usually women who have to clear it up, not men.

Mothers on housing estates in inner city areas are terrified to let their children play outside because of the danger posed by roaming dogs. Unless a link can be made between a dog and its owner, such problems cannot be controlled. All the measures in the world will not work unless there is a registration scheme. If we want to enforce such a scheme, we can—in the same way as we enforce television licensing and vehicle registration, which the Government take very seriously.

The Government—if not the majority of Conservative Members in this case—take a laissez-faire, do-nothing approach. I ask all right hon. and hon. Members who will vote tonight to examine their consciences and ask themselves how many more children must be bitten, how many more postmen and postwomen attacked, and how many other members of the public must suffer before they realise that their vote can make the difference and will really matter tonight? It is not just a question of voting with one's party but of voting in the way that one knows one's constituents want.

I hope that the Government realise that they are isolated on this issue. Dog ownership is not a right but a privilege, and with that privilege goes responsibility to the dog and to the rest of society. Just as one cannot walk into a garage, buy a car and drive it away without proof that one can drive, so one should not be able to walk into a shop and buy a dog without proving that one can look after it and without registering it. None of the Government's measures will work unless there is at the top a simple administrative measure for a national registration scheme. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to end the debate and vote to introduce a dog registration scheme, to make people's lives safer and dog owners a lot happier.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

The Government had the wisdom to introduce a dog registration scheme in Northern Ireland and, contrary to some of the information that the House has been offered this evening, that scheme has worked. The chief warden for Belfast, who has been in the House all day, has informed many right hon. and hon. Members that, since the introduction of a registration scheme in Northern Ireland, the incidence of sheep worrying has fallen dramatically, as have the number of traffic accidents caused by dogs and the number of attacks by dogs on people, particularly children.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Do all these good things that have happened in Northern Ireland have anything to do with the fact that there is a charge for a licence—there is no identification on the dog—or is it because they introduced a dog warden scheme at the same time?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

I was going to come to that. This afternoon an hon. Friend challenged me with that argument saying, "Ah, yes, but that is because of the warden scheme: it has nothing to do with dog registration." Again, I am assured by the chief dog warden, who I suspect knows a little about this subject, that dog registration needed to be on the statute book. Non-registration had to be an offence to give the powers that exist in Northern Ireland some teeth. Without registration those powers are ineffective.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Minister is in the unhappy position of having to salute a flag nailed to the mast some years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), which has been fluttering there in tatters ever since.

I have supported the cause of dog registration consistently since we began to discuss it shortly after I entered the House. I shall support it again in the Lobby tonight.

I have listened with great care to the Minister's arguments and read with great care the amendments tabled by the Government. All amendments depend upon identification of the dog if they are to work, and identification must be dependent on some form of registration scheme. I do not accept the Minister's argument that a tag round the neck is sufficient identification. There is a proper and sensible way to do it.

The Minister said that registration would lead to awful bureaucracy. I am a fervent supporter of the community charge. I find no problem whatever with a registration system that requires more than 20 million charge payers to be registered, so I find even less problem with a system that would require about 7·5 million dogs to be registered.

This morning, an interviewer asked me whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say that the introduction of what will inevitably become known as the dog tax is unpopular. I had to say yes; it will be unpopular. Once people are asked to pay for something as opposed to voting for it or talking about it they will not like it, but that does not mean that it is not right or worth while. For those reasons, I know of no reason for going back on my commitment to a dog registration scheme.

Photo of John Taylor John Taylor , Strangford

The Northern Ireland experience is that registration did not prove unpopular. About 20,000 dogs were registered before the new dogs order was passed. Once it was introduced and the fee went up to £5, the number of dogs registered went up to 80,000, which is four times the previous figure.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We have heard much about the fee this evening. Hon. Members who believe in dog registration are talking about a funded system, on the "user pays" principle—something in which I thought the Government believed. The Minister is putting forward an unfunded system, which will ultimately have to be funded by local authorities. The Minister will say that the scheme will be funded through rate support grant and he may go on to say that it will be fully funded. I doubt that very much.

I fear that if the Government amendments are passed and the Lords amendment is defeated, it will be open season for every local authority to increase its community charge because it will be required to provide a dog warden system which no one else is paying for. I shudder to think what increase in community charge the socialist republic of Lambeth is likely to levy to provide wardens under the scheme which, as it stands before us tonight, is unfunded.

I believe that the system devised by the Lords and the two-year consultation period is a workable answer and I offer my hon. Friend the Minister my services to seek ways through the maze to a solution.

I hope and believe that many of my hon. Friends, on reflection, will join other hon. Members to support the Lords amendment and see this scheme through once and for all.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

There have been two main objections tonight to a dog registration scheme: first, that it is unworkable in practical terms and unenforceable; and secondly, that it cannot be made to work because irresponsible dog owners will refuse to register and thereby render the scheme ineffective. I have never found that argument convincing. I find it even less convincing after listening carefully to the Minister's alternative to registration.

9.45 pm

Let me take, for example, the Minister's proposal that new powers should be given to local authorities to levy fees on owners who are irresponsible enough to abandon their dogs in public places. Earlier, the Minister told us that these are the same irresponsible owners who would refuse to pay a licence fee and register their dogs. They are owners who have failed properly to look after their dogs and abandoned them. We do not know the extent of their irresponsibility. These owners may abuse and undernourish their dogs. However, the Minister expects us to believe that they would trot down to the kennels, own up to their negligence and accept the imposition of a heavy fee by the council. The Minister expects us to believe that they would co-operate in poop-scoop schemes, obey leash laws and ensure that there were identification tags on their dogs' collars. That scenario is utterly incredible. I am surprised that the Minister had the effrontery to put it before the House.

The Government cannot have it both ways. Irresponsible owners cannot be prayed in aid if one rubbishes a dog registration scheme and then conveniently be ignored when a case is made for one's own package of measures. That is being two-faced and hypocritical. The irresponsible will always seek to flout the law. However, that can never be an argument for refusing to pass laws in the first place. If we ever accepted that principle, hon. Members might as well pack their bags and go home.

The other objection to registration is that it would be costly and bureaucratic. What, however, is the Government's alternative to registration? A new range of duties would be imposed on local authorities. Dog warden schemes would give effect to the new duties. There would be what the consultation paper called a new local government finance system to fund the scheme. With breathtaking effrontery, the consultation paper. referred to the new financing system as "simple" and "effective". I remind the House that it was referring to the poll tax. In Scotland, England and Wales the poll tax has been proved to be enormously bureaucratic, horrendously costly and spectacularly ineffective. How can the Government, who gave us the poll tax and promised that dog control measures would be funded by means of the poll tax, dare to object to a registration scheme on the ground that it would be costly and bureaucratic? It makes no sense.

The case for action is unanswerable. The question that divides the House is, what kind of action? The Government are seeking to slide out of their clear responsibilities on dog control measures. They want to place that duty on local authorities, to place the burden of financing it on local taxpayers and to allow breeders and owners to sidestep their responsibilities. They want also to abandon their own newly adopted principle of making the polluter pay. That is entirely unacceptable.

This is not a joking matter, as some Conservative Members make it appear. It is not just a question of the tonnes of faeces and gallons of urine that are deposited in our streets, parks and playgrounds every year. It is not just the cost of coping with stray dogs, in both financial terms and in terms of the suffering that has to be endured by those animals. It is also for me the far more frightening prospect of the growing threat to human safety that is posed by the increasing number of dangerous breeds of dogs that are now kept as domestic pets.

The House knows that American pit bull terriers have killed, and killed again, in the United States and that those animals are coming into this country in increasing numbers. The House will know, too, that one of my constituents, 11-year-old Kelly Lynch, was savaged to death by two rottweiler dogs just over a year ago and that there is no control whatever over the ownership of dangerous breeds of dogs. The House must understand that unless effective action is taken by us, there will he more attacks and, tragically, more deaths.

No one wants the tragedy that befell my constituent to happen to anyone else, least of all Kelly's parents, Veronica and John Lynch, who have campaigned ceaselessly for stricter control of dogs. Central to their campaign has been the demand for a national dog registration scheme. That aim is endorsed by the majority of agencies concerned with the welfare of animals, by almost all local authorities and overwhelmingly by public opinion. We heard earlier that it is about to be endorsed by the European Community, and in the form of the Lords amendment it has already been endorsed by the other place.

Will the House persist in alone setting its face against the tide running irreversibly in favour of dog registration? It is no longer a question of whether we should have a registration scheme but when we shall have one. All reasonable argument and informed opinion tells us that the House must act now to introduce dog registration. I beg hon. Members who seriously have the welfare of their constituents at heart to vote for the Lords amendment and to ensure that this is the moment when the House faces up to its responsibilities.

Photo of Mr William Shelton Mr William Shelton , Streatham

I must refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), for whom I have high respect. She is my neighbour in Lambeth, but she did not make the link between the wretched attacks on postmen, of which I am quite aware, and whether a dog is registered. She would agree that a registered or unregistered dog is just as likely to attack a postman or anyone else. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) referred to urine and faeces, but a registered or unregistered dog behaves in the same way. I have two golden retrievers, which presented us with eight puppies a month or two ago. Our family has had dogs since it started being a dog family. [Laughter] I have had dogs all my life, and my family has too. I was deeply attracted by the registration scheme proposed by the RSPCA. It seemed a good solution until I started looking at it and discussing it with dog owners. Let me tell the House why I have changed my mind and propose to support the Government.

We have heard vast differences in the suggested cost of dog registration. Whatever it is, it would certainly cost quite a lot, especially for those who are less well off and who must bear the cost of a dog. Hon. Members have suggested that registration would be low. I suspect that it would be, and more dogs would be put down and abandoned in the first six months or a year following its introduction. People would say, "I cannot afford this dog," and push it out of the door on to the motorway. That would be a danger.

The main question is, what is the purpose of a national or local register of some 7 million dogs and their owners? The answer if therest, to provide a living for those who run it. Secondly, of their is an implant in the dog or a tattoo on its ear, yet all that is read from it is a number, a national register is essential to link the dog with its owner and the owner's name and address. If a dog carries an implant or a tattoo, there must inevitably be a national dog registration scheme.

I should add a third answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) said that she believed in a register because—I hope that I am not quoting her incorrectly—every dog should have its own identity. She caught my attention with those words. I put it to her that the identity of a dog can come just as well from a collar and tag as from a number in some computer in some part of the country. The true identity of a dog comes from the loving home where it lives.

If all dogs wear collars and tags in public places, instead of an implant or tattoo, and there are council-appointed dog wardens—as the Government recommend—to enforce the wearing of collars and tags, we do not need a national register to link a dog's number with its owner. It is essential only if dogs have a tattoo or implant.

There are many advantages of a dog wearing a collar and tag rather than having a tattoo or implant. First, all dogs in public places should, by law, have a collar and tag, and many do. Secondly, it is much quicker and easier to identify a dog that breaks into one's garden or bites one's leg or a dog that bites a postman if it has a tag on its collar, because one can easily see who owns it. If it has a tattoo or implant, I imagine that one would need a machine to read the information. If a dog wearing a tag fouls a pavement, one can see who owns it—one need not go to some computer bank. That means that it costs the owner less and we do not have a bureaucracy.

What are the disadvantages of not having a register? There is one major disadvantage. A collar can be removed or transferred to another dog—I accept that—while an implant or tattoo cannot be removed without some difficulty by the owner. However, I can see few occasions when that is important. If a dog has been abandoned deliberately, the sort of owner who would do that would probably not have registered it anyway. If he registered it and wanted to abandon it, he would probably kill it. A latch-key dog would have a collar and tag. The problem about being able to remove a collar and tag seems, therefore, to be relatively unimportant. That is why I shall support the Government.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Many arguments for and against have been put in the debate, but I think that I should bring the House back to what we are discussing—the Lords amendments and the principle of a dog registration scheme. Many hon. Members have put forward sincere and valid points about how a scheme would operate and its various costs. But we should come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes)—we need a framework for dealing with what we all recognise is a growing problem.

The difference between the proposal in the Lords amendments and the Government's amendments is that, although the Government's amendments are welcome in what they set out to do, they do not tackle the main problem of increasing difficulties and problems that come from irresponsible dog owners. It is worth emphasising the point made by hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). The kind of problems associated with a registration scheme are exactly the problems that the Government's proposals would have—there is no real difference in terms of the practicalities.

Dog registration provides a framework that would allow dog wardens to intervene when dogs cause a problem. That is why organisations such as the Police Federation strongly support a system that involves a framework for enforcement.

Although the Government's proposals will place far more responsibility on local councils, they do not entail the provision of any extra funding to allow councils to carry out their duties. Registration would provide some income—the amount depending, as I said, on the kind of scheme that is agreed after due debate. For example, where local authorities provide dog wardens, that little extra income could be used to increase the amount of education about dog ownership and could be of benefit in such ways.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

It has been suggested by those who support the dog registration scheme that there should be a system of exemptions for old-age pensioners. If that happens, every granny and granddad in the country will become the family's dog owner and income from the dog registration scheme will fall to nothing.

Ordered,That, at this day's sitting, the Lords Amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

Question again propoposed, That the Lords amendments be now considered.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley , Glanford and Scunthorpe

The Lords amendment proposes a two-year period during which valid points such as that made by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) can be worked out. I argue that the fees charged under the dog registration scheme could be used to encourage positive elements in terms of dog ownership. I do not doubt that there will be evasion of a dog registration scheme, just as there is evasion of any law that is passed. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) said, it is not a valid argument against a scheme that is of benefit to the community to say that some may evade it.

The concept of registration is becoming increasingly widespread. This Bill introduces the concept of registration for all food outlets. It is not valid for the Government to argue that registration is bureaucratic when, for acceptable and understandable reasons, they are introducing registration schemes elsewhere in this and other Bills.

Northern Ireland and just about every European country have registration and licence schemes, and those who travel abroad regularly will know that European countries have far less of a dog problem than we have. I know that many hon. Members here represent rural areas. Organisations such as the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association are strongly in favour of the scheme, given the experience in Northern Ireland, which was outlined by my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), who referred to the fall-off in sheep and stock worrying since the licensing scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland. Organisations responsible for the countryside endorse that view and argue strongly for a scheme.

Many members of the public are puzzled as to why the Government continue to oppose dog registration when so many other people are firmly in favour of it. This is not really a political issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) gave the House a list of the supporters of a dog registration scheme, ranging from the women's institutes to the British Police and Services Canine Association.

The Lords carried the amendment by an overwhelming majority and hon. Members will know from their mailbags of the tremendous popular support that the scheme has. In national independent opinion polls, it has been found that 94 per cent. of the public are in favour of a scheme and only 3 per cent. against, while 80 per cent. of dog owners are in favour. I have received hundreds of letters—mainly from dog owners—in favour of a dog registration scheme and only two against. This is a popular proposal and it will be well received by the public if we agree tonight on the principle of such a scheme.

The councils are in favour of a scheme, including the Conservative-controlled Association of District Councils. One of my councils, Conservative-controlled Glanford borough council, wrote to me asking for my support for a registration scheme, which I was pleased to give.

We know that all the animal welfare and veterinary organisations are in favour of such a scheme and we know that action must be taken. We can have an honest debate about the details of the scheme. There is a debate about tattooing versus implants and collars and tags. All those issues have positive and negative sides and we can work them out in the interim period laid down by the amendment.

I held meetings in my constituency with dog breeders and at one point had 10 alsatians in the front room with them. Dog breeders have a successful registration scheme which operates well and, I suspect, makes a great deal of money for those who administer it. Why cannot we extend that successful dog registration scheme to all dogs? If it can work for pedigrees, there is no reason why the concept cannot work on a wider scale.

The Lords amendment also has positive advantages for responsible owners. Under a national scheme, those who lose their dogs will have a far greater chance of finding them again. As I said, inoculations and neutering can be encouraged through a registration scheme by offering discounts to those who carry those things out for the benefit of their dogs and of the community at large.

The clinching argument in favour of a registration scheme is that it will go a long way towards deterring casual dog ownership. It will deter people who do not think carefully about the responsibilities of dog ownership in terms of the animals's welfare and their responsibility to the wider community. Dog ownership is for life. A registration scheme would benefit the community and responsible owners and it would act as a framework to crack down on the irresponsible owners who have caused so many problems. Above all, the scheme is a step forward and would deal with the problem which is not addressed by the Government's amendment.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

With the leave of the House, I rise briefly to reply to the debate because I sense that the House wants to bring the matter to a conclusion.

The debate has shown that we are unanimous in the belief that there are too many irresponsible dog owners and too many stray dogs. Supporters of dog registration have told us that such a scheme is essential. It has become something of a totem because very few reasons have been advanced in the debate for making such a scheme an essential component of any solution to the problem.

If the identification of dogs is necessary, how can that be better achieved by registration than by our proposals for enforcing the collar and tag requirement? We propose a simple, visible and direct way of linking a dog to its owner and we shall enforce it. There is already a maximum £2,000 fine for those failing to comply. We shall place a reauirement on district councils to enforce the collar and tag provision.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Has my hon. Friend read the report produced by the London School of Economics, which was commissioned by the RSPCA? Has he received letters, as I have, from constituents who would like a registration scheme and would pay between £5 and £10? On a 60 per cent. compliance rate with no money off for the old or disabled, such a scheme would cost £29 for simple tattoo or £40 for a transponder to register a dog in the first year and a fee of £11 afterwards. Is my hon. Friend aware that only £3·50 would go towards the warden service?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I referred to fees earlier. Nothing has altered my view that the higher the fee, the greater will be the disincentive for irresponsible owners to comply with the scheme. Although doubtless some owners would still fail to place a collar and tag on their dogs, exactly the same people would fail to register in the first place, especially as registration would entail the payment of a considerable annual fee.

We have also been told in the debate that electronic implants may not be necessary, although such an approach underlay the study by the London School of Economics—published last year—which assumed that dogs would have electronic implants, which would then have to be linked up to a central computer. We certainly have not been told how such a scheme would be run without electronic implants. Presumably a central computer would still he required. It is still a clumsy way of identifying a dog if it has to be linked up with a central computer, which will then give the name and address of the last registered owner. If identification is a requirement—and I agree that it is—I insist that it would be better and more simply done by means of the enforcement of the existing collar and tag provisions.

The costs of national registration are not simply the costs of the electronic equipment. The real costs lie in tracing the owners who have moved, itinerant owners and dogs that have been given away, traded or sold; deregistering dogs that have died; and attempting to find owners who have moved or gone abroad. All that is entirely unproductive. I want the money and resources to be spent on the ground, dealing with the real problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) mentioned a 60 per cent. compliance figure. That would mean accepting nearly 3 million unregistered dogs. Almost by definition, those dogs would belong to the irresponsible owners who create the problem in the first place. That is the very reverse of the "polluter pays" principle that underlies the rest of the Bill. I want the effort directed towards solving the problems of strays.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the money that the RSPCA spent on its advertising campaign would have been far better spent on animal welfare and education? My hon. Friend has referred to stray dogs. In my opinion, dog registration would lead to more strays, and would increase the heap of dead dogs on the RSPCA poster rather than diminish it.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I take my hon. Friend's point. It has been pointed out to me that each full-page advertisement taken in today's press costs about the equivalent of employing a dog warden for a year. I sympathise with my hon. Friend's view that some of that money might have been better spent, if not on employing dog wardens, at least on joining us in helping to educate dogs' owners and to give them a sense of responsibility.

Hon. Members:

Give way.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

I want to direct our efforts towards solving the problems that exist on the ground. That is why we are laying down specific duties to require district councils to collect and hold stray dogs and to keep them for at least seven days. Owners collecting dogs will pay a fee, not just to cover the cost of kennelling but as a contribution towards the warden costs. That is the embodiment of the "polluter pays" principle, and that is why I ask the House to disagree with the Lords on dog registration.

10.15 pm

Let us dispose of the irrelevance, complexity and expense of trying to enforce a national registration scheme. I ask the House to vote for a positive, specific and well-targeted package of measures to deal with the problems caused by dogs and a minority of irresponsible owners.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 274, Noes 271.

Division No. 344][10.15 pm
Adley, RobertAmess, David
Aitken, JonathanArbuthnot, James
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelArnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianArnold, Sir Thomas
Ashby, DavidGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Atkins, RobertGrist, Ian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Ground, Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Grylls, Michael
Baldry, TonyGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyHague, William
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Boscawen, Hon RobertHampson, Dr Keith
Boswell, TimHanley, Jeremy
Bottomley, PeterHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaHarris, David
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Haselhurst, Alan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hawkins, Christopher
Bowis, JohnHayes, Jerry
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Brazier, JulianHayward, Robert
Bright, GrahamHeathcoat-Amory, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Budgen, NicholasHill, James
Burns, SimonHind, Kenneth
Burt, AlistairHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butler, ChrisHordern, Sir Peter
Butterfill, JohnHoward, Rt Hon Michael
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Carrington, MatthewHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Carttiss, MichaelHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cash, WilliamHunt, David (Wirral W)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHunter, Andrew
Chapman, SydneyHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Chope, ChristopherIrvine, Michael
Churchill, MrJack, Michael
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Jackson, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Janman, Tim
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Jessel, Toby
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Colvin, MichaelJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Conway, DerekJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Key, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Cope, Rt Hon JohnKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Couchman, JamesKirkhope, Timothy
Cran, JamesKnapman, Roger
Critchley, JulianKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Curry, DavidKnowles, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Davis, David (Boothferry)Lang, Ian
Day, StephenLatham, Michael
Dorrell, StephenLawrence, Ivan
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Dykes, HughLee, John (Pendle)
Eggar, TimLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Emery, Sir PeterLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lilley, Peter
Evennett, DavidLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fallon, MichaelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Favell, TonyLord, Michael
Fenner, Dame PeggyLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMcCrindle, Robert
Fishburn, John DudleyMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forman, NigelMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Maclean, David
Forth, EricMcLoughlin, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Freeman, RogerMadel, David
Gardiner, GeorgeMajor, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, TristanMalins, Humfrey
Gill, ChristopherMans, Keith
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMaples, John
Glyn, Dr Sir AlanMarland, Paul
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMarlow, Tony
Goodlad, AlastairMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorst, JohnMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)Mates, Michael
Maude, Hon FrancisShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinShersby, Michael
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSkeet, Sir Trevor
Mellor, DavidSmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Miller, Sir HalSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mitchell, Sir DavidSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Moate, RogerSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Monro, Sir HectorSquire, Robin
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Morrison, Sir CharlesSteen, Anthony
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)Stern, Michael
Moss, MalcolmStevens, Lewis
Moynihan, Hon ColinStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Neale, GerrardStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Needham, RichardStewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Nelson, AnthonyStokes, Sir John
Neubert, MichaelStradling Thomas, Sir John
Newton, Rt Hon TonySumberg, David
Nicholls, PatrickTapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norris, SteveTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Oppenheim, PhillipThatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Page, RichardThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Paice, JamesThorne, Neil
Patnick, IrvineThurnham, Peter
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Patten, Rt Hon JohnTracey, Richard
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyTredinnick, David
Pawsey, JamesTrippier, David
Porter, David (Waveney)Trotter, Neville
Portillo, MichaelTwinn, Dr Ian
Price, Sir DavidViggers, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWaddington, Rt Hon David
Rathbone, TimWakeham, Rt Hon John
Redwood, JohnWalden, George
Renton, Rt Hon TimWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Rhodes James, RobertWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Riddick, GrahamWaller, Gary
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWard, John
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)Wheeler, Sir John
Roe, Mrs MarionWhitney, Ray
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWiddecombe, Ann
Ryder, RichardWilkinson, John
Sackville, Hon TomWilshire, David
Sainsbury, Hon TimWood, Timothy
Scott, Rt Hon NicholasYeo, Tim
Shaw, David (Dover)Younger, Rt Hon George
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Tellers for the Ayes:
Shelton, Sir WilliamSir George Young and Mr. David Lightbown.
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Abbott, Ms DianeBermingham, Gerald
Alexander, RichardBevan, David Gilroy
Alton, DavidBidwell, Sydney
Anderson, DonaldBiffen, Rt Hon John
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBlackburn, Dr John G.
Armstrong, HilaryBlair, Tony
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBlunkett, David
Ashton, JoeBoateng, Paul
Aspinwall, JackBody, Sir Richard
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Boyes, Roland
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Bradley, Keith
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Bray, Dr Jeremy
Barron, KevinBrown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Battle, JohnBrown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Beckett, MargaretBrown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Beggs, RoyBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Beith, A. J.Buckley, George J.
Bell, StuartCaborn, Richard
Bellotti, DavidCallaghan, Jim
Bendall, VivianCampbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCampbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Gregory, Conal
Cartwright, JohnGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clay, BobGrocott, Bruce
Clelland, DavidHannam, John
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Cohen, HarryHarman, Ms Harriet
Coleman, DonaldHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Corbett, RobinHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Corbyn, JeremyHenderson, Doug
Cousins, JimHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Cox, TomHinchliffe, David
Crowther, StanHoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cryer, BobHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cummings, JohnHolt, Richard
Cunliffe, LawrenceHome Robertson, John
Cunningham, Dr JohnHood, Jimmy
Dalyell, TamHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Darling, AlistairHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Howells, Geraint
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Dewar, DonaldHoyle, Doug
Dobson, FrankHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Doran, FrankHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dover, DenHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Duffy, A. E. P.Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Dunn, BobIllsley, Eric
Dunnachie, JimmyIngram, Adam
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethIrving, Sir Charles
Evans, John (St Helens N)Janner, Greville
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Faulds, AndrewJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Fearn, RonaldKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Kennedy, Charles
Fisher, MarkKilfedder, James
Flannery, MartinKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Flynn, PaulKirkwood, Archy
Fookes, Dame JanetKnox, David
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelLambie, David
Foster, DerekLamond, James
Foulkes, GeorgeLeighton, Ron
Franks, CecilLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Fraser, JohnLewis, Terry
Fry, PeterLitherland, Robert
Fyfe, MariaLivingstone, Ken
Gale, Roger Livsey, Richard
Galloway, GeorgeLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)Loyden, Eddie
George, BruceMcAllion, John
Godman, Dr Norman A.McAvoy, Thomas
Golding, Mrs LlinMcCartney, Ian
Gordon, MildredMcFall, John
Gould, Bryan Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Graham, ThomasMcKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)McKelvey, William
Greenway, Harry (Eating N)McLeish, Henry
Maclennan, RobertRuddock, Joan
McNamara, KevinSayeed, Jonathan
McWilliam, JohnSedgemore, Brian
Madden, MaxSheerman, Barry
Mahon, Mrs AliceSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marek, Dr JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Short, Clare
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Sillars, Jim
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Skinner, Dennis
Martlew, EricSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, JohnSmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Meacher, MichaelSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Meale, AlanSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Meyer, Sir AnthonySnape, Peter
Michael, AlunSoley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Spearing, Nigel
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)Speller, Tony
Mills, IainStanbrook, Ivor
Miscampbell, NormanSteinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr LewisStrang, Gavin
Morgan, RhodriStraw, Jack
Morley, Elliot Summerson, Hugo
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Mowlam, MarjorieTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mudd, DavidTemple-Morris, Peter
Mullin, ChrisThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Murphy, PaulThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nellist, DaveTurner, Dennis
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonVaughan, Sir Gerard
O'Brien, WilliamVaz, Keith
O'Hara, EdwardWallace, James
O'Neill, MartinWalley, Joan
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWareing, Robert N.
Patchett, TerryWatson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Pendry, TomWatts, John
Pike, Peter L.Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Prescott, JohnWigley, Dafydd
Primarolo, Dawn Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Quin, Ms JoyceWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Radice, GilesWilson, Brian
Raffan, KeithWinnick, David
Randall, StuartWinterton, Mrs Ann
Redmond, MartinWise, Mrs Audrey
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynWolfson, Mark
Reid, Dr JohnWorthington, Tony
Richardson, JoWray, Jimmy
Robertson, GeorgeYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Robinson, Geoffrey
Rogers, AllanTellers for the Noes:
Rooker, JeffMr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Ray Powell.
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rossi, Sir Hugh

Question accordingly agreed to.

Government amendments in lieu of the Lords amendment agreed to.

Government motions to disagree with Lords amendments agreed to.