I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require dog-owners to have their dogs micro-chipped;
to set a minimum age for dog ownership;
to give courts powers to ban households from dog ownership;
to require local authorities to provide kennelling for stray dogs and to nominate responsible officers for dog control;
to extend the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to private property;
to empower the police and local authorities to issue dog control notices;
to give police support officers powers to enforce byelaws relating to dogs;
to require owners of breeding dogs to be accredited;
to set minimum standards for accredited dog breeders;
to give local authorities powers to enter premises used for dog breeding;
to regulate access to dog ownership data;
and for connected purposes.
Notwithstanding its title, the Bill is less about the control of dogs than about the control of dog owners. This is a problem that many of my hon. Friends have already raised in the House, some by means of private Members' Bills. I think we can all agree that it is the fault not of the dogs themselves but of their owners, many of whom are too young to take on the responsibility of owning and training a dog.
I do not believe that there is such a thing as a dog that is inherently vicious. If a dog is given tender loving care and training from a young age, it can be gentle.
Perhaps not my hon. Friend's dog.
Not all people want a gentle dog, however. Some train them to fight or be vicious to warn people off, and sometimes to help them to commit crimes. Others simply do not know how to train or look after them. For many such people, dogs are a weapon. As the penalties for possession of guns and knives have become tougher, they have turned to dogs. Indeed, they prefer them in some ways. It is not necessary to hide them, for instance. As with guns and knives, they set off a chain reaction: other people buy dogs to protect themselves, but they in turn are seen as possible aggressors by others who then buy dogs to defend themselves.
The present legislation on dogs is a jumble. Many prosecutions are brought under obsolete Victorian legislation such as the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which makes it an offence to have a ferocious dog unmuzzled in a public place but also makes it an offence to fire a cannon close to a dwelling house. Fewer prosecutions are brought under the more recent Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. I think we have all come to realise that breed-specific legislation is a mistake. It costs the police more than £1 million a year to kennel dogs so that they can be examined by experts to establish whether they belong to a banned breed, a fact that is largely irrelevant to the danger that they pose.
I commend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, and the Secretary of State on recognising the need to sweep away this patchwork of legislation and bring in a modern law to deal with today's problems. My hon. Friend visited Battersea Dogs and Cats home with me recently, and listened carefully to the advice given there. I do not think he would be wrong to see my Bill as a shopping list of things that we would like to see in a comprehensive Control of Dogs Bill, including most of the options on which he is consulting and a few more besides.
At the top of the list is microchipping. More than 40 per cent. of dogs are microchipped and are on the pet log database. My local authority, Wandsworth, microchips the dogs of all tenants. Battersea dogs home automatically does it to all dogs for £15. A law is required, however, to make it compulsory for all dogs in public places-although I do not think it need apply to farm dogs or sheep dogs-and also for owners to have to update the database when they move or transfer ownership. That would make it possible to set a minimum age for dog ownership. Battersea dogs home will re-home a dog only to somebody over 18, or 21 for a bull breed or guarding dog, which I think is a pretty good guide. The courts can already ban someone from dog ownership, but, in practice, people just transfer ownership to other members of their household. Therefore, a power to ban a household from keeping a dog is needed.
Since responsibility for strays was passed from the police to local authorities in April, it has become apparent that many local authorities have no kennelling at all. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 made some important reforms, but it was a mistake for it to say that local authorities need provide kennelling only "where practicable". Those are weasel words and the law needs to require them to provide that.
My council has a dog officer, Mark Callis, and six wardens who do a very good job, but even they cannot cope with the amount of work. Many other boroughs cannot cope-indeed, many of them do not have a dog warden at all. We must place an obligation on councils to have dog control officers.
Dangerous dogs are a huge issue in my constituency. People queue up to sign our petition and to support the campaign run on this issue by the Wandsworth and Putney Guardian. Dog fouling is the only issue that eclipses dangerous dogs and it should certainly be an equally prominent aim of this Bill to increase the powers of dog wardens and police community support officers to deal with dog fouling. In particular, PCSOs should have the power to enforce byelaws on the offence.
In Battersea and other areas there has been a rapid increase in demand for Staffordshire bull terriers and cross breeds. As the registered breeders have been unable to keep up with demand, some people have started breeding them in their front rooms and selling them on the internet and in pubs. A casual glance at internet sites such as Gumtree will reveal that cross-breed puppies are for sale for about £200, with the seller contactable via a mobile phone number, no address given. I know nothing about these individual breeders, of course, and some will, perhaps, be good while others will be bad, but what I do know is that many of these puppies end up as aggressive and unsocialised dogs abandoned after two years and left at Battersea dogs home, often in a pitiable state.
Even if the professional breeders will bridle at any official accreditation scheme, I think they will recognise that the problems are being caused by back-street breeders who are running front-room puppy farms. Safe in the knowledge that no one has the right to inspect, they are often operated without the provision of exercise, training or decent sanitation. If puppies are to be sold, local authorities need to have the power to enter premises used for dog breeding, and there must be set minimum standards of space, hygiene, exercise and training. In order to achieve that, the owners of breeding dogs need to be accredited. That does not need to be complicated-it could be as simple as a phone call to the town hall-but we must have some such scheme. It would be best if accreditation was done through the breed societies and the Kennel Club, and if the microchip database was left in the ownership of PetLog and the other organisations that currently run that, but in any case this requirement clearly needs to be backed by law.
I again commend the Government on their consultation paper, and I urge them to carry out a comprehensive reform and to consolidate all the legislation in a single Act. I hope my Bill will serve to point the way.
Question put and agreed to.
That Martin Linton, Lynda Waltho, Ms Angela C. Smith, Frank Cook, Bob Russell, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Dr. Brian Iddon, Harry Cohen, Ms Diane Abbott, Chris McCafferty, Jim Sheridan and Norman Baker present the Bill.
Martin Linton accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on