Committee (1st Day)

Dog Control Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 10:00 am on 4th March 2011.

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Clause 1 : Responsibility for dogs

Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords) 10:05 am, 4th March 2011

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his constant championing of a better control regime for dogs over many years. He has worked tirelessly with all the organisations in this area and has brought forward this Bill in conjunction with the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group, which consists of nine high-profile organisations including the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Blue Cross, the BVA and many others.

While it is appreciated that private Members' business will often proceed at an extremely gentle pace, I remind noble Lords that the Second Reading of this Bill occurred on Friday 9 July 2010. The Bill was scheduled to have its Committee stage on Friday 21 January, but, unfortunately, that day became filled with other business. We on this side of the House wished to take this Bill on that date, and our amendments were not intended to wreck the Bill. They were, as are appropriate to Committee on a Bill such as this, probing amendments to trigger debate. They should not be described as wrecking. Furthermore, most of the amendments were from the author of the Bill.

That the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said what he did on that day has been taken extremely seriously, especially as we have tried over many days to meet him. We spoke with his office and left several messages, including yesterday, but no response has been received. I should like the noble Lord to withdraw his remarks when he comes to reply.

We have asked for our amendments to be grouped with this stand-part debate to present our approach to the Bill. We share the noble Lord's concerns that dog control legislation is not working effectively. We understand the anxieties of the public as each week brings further reports of dog attacks. Several consultations on dog control have been undertaken in the recent past. The most recent consultation was conducted from 9 March to 1 June 2010, which was one month prior to Second Reading. We are now 10 months on without the Government coming to Parliament to say how they wish to proceed.

It is important that everyone works together to agree and support the best way forward. I have commended the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his work with the Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group. Unfortunately, the results of the consultation reveal that the police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are not united behind his Bill. In its submission, the RSPCA has said that the Bill is "fundamentally flawed". It stated:

"We believe updating and consolidation of the law is long-overdue. However, this Bill is unlikely to improve the situation and we are extremely concerned it may actually make matters worse".

Those are strong words.

What is the response of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and his group to these remarks? Does he agree that the best way forward is one that can be supported by all the enforcement and animal welfare organisations? Will he await the outcome of this consultation? Will the Minister convene a meeting with all interested parties to find the best way forward?

How the Government respond to this situation is crucial and needs to be carefully considered alongside the Bill. We understand that the Government wish to review the workings of the anti-social behaviour orders and that they might bring elements of dog control into those new arrangements. We would like the Minister to explain the thinking in his reply. What cross-government discussions have there been with other interested departments such as the Home Office? We note that the Permanent Secretary, Dame Helen Ghosh, has recently transferred to the Home Office. Will the noble Lord and the Minister advise us on any discussions that have taken place?

We have tabled Amendments 19 and 20 to underline to the Minister and the Government that they must engage and contribute in bringing forward improvements to dog control.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset that, like the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Redesdale for drawing our attention to the need for the proper control of dogs through this Bill and for the considerable amount of time and effort that he and others have put into it. He will be aware from the speech made by my noble friend Lord Henley at Second Reading that the Government are unable to support it. I can, however, assure him that the Government are concerned about dangerous dogs, are well aware of public concern and are very keen to promote responsible pet ownership.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, the previous Government launched a public consultation exercise on dangerous dogs legislation last year. I can assure noble Lords that we are firmly committed to taking forward the issues raised in that exercise. We have received more than 4,000 responses from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

We are currently considering all the comments received and are discussing the issues raised with the relevant people. They are complex issues and we need to consider our approach very carefully. It is very important that we make the right decisions, but we hope to make an announcement on the Government's proposed way forward shortly. I can inform your Lordships that we are considering a number of different options, which range from legislative changes to guidance and working with local authorities and the police at a local level.

We are also working with other government departments-in particular with the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government-on other initiatives that affect dogs. For example, we have been working with the Home Office on its current public consultation exercise on tackling anti-social behaviour, in which dogs are regrettably often involved.

We are keen to ensure that departments are working together properly to deal with this important and complex issue. I hope the noble Lord will accept that it would not be right for the Government to give this Bill their support at this stage, although, as I said, we are grateful to my noble friend for his work on the Bill and to other noble Lords for their contributions to the debate.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has a chance to respond to this clause stand part debate, I was on the opposition Front Bench when we discussed a Bill concerned with marine matters. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was critical of the Opposition for what he considered were wrecking amendments to his Bill. I was not able to respond to that because, interested as I am in the control of dangerous dogs-I have some sympathy with the noble Lord and his Bill, and we have discussed these issues in the past-I was not at all briefed at that stage because we were dealing with other matters. Consequently, I was obliged to accept what the noble Lord said in his criticism of the Opposition. I checked it out immediately, of course, and I considered his comments to be completely and totally unjustified. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will today withdraw the position that he adopted on that day.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 10:15 am, 4th March 2011

My Lords, I before answer some of the points that have been raised I want to say that the purpose of this Bill, as has been set out already, is that we have a major problem with the control of dogs in this country. While I am devastated by the Minister's response, I have brought forward so many Private Members' Bills that I am hardly surprised at the position that the Government are taking at this stage. The reason for bringing this Bill forward is that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has created a situation in which people own dogs for the wrong reasons.

Some dogs are now owned by young men purely for the status that they give and to cause fear among other people. Many people will have heard stories about people feeling threatened by dogs that they suspect might be pit bull-type dogs that are off the lead and out of control. The purpose of the Bill is to try to look at that serious problem. The problem has massive cost implications because of the number of people who have gone to hospital with dog bites and the number of dogs that have been attacked. I was at a reception the other day with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which said that the number of guide dogs that are attacked by other dogs has risen year on year. That is unacceptable, and is the purpose of the Bill.

I will deal with the amendments and then come to the accusations that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and why they were brought about. The Bill has the support of most of the major dog organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said that the RSPCA and ACPO are against this legislation. I noticed the other day that the noble Lord was being briefed by the RSPCA. I can answer his accusation very simply because the RSPCA originally drafted the Bill. It supported the Bill and then on the intervention of ACPO changed its position, as opposed to all the other dog organisations that carried on with their support.

I am particularly concerned about the position of ACPO. I talked to the organisation and was shocked to be hear, "Is it the role of the police to deal with dogs?" Anti-social dogs are a major cause of concern on the streets. It is incredible that ACPO has taken this position. Rather than try to say why the RSPCA should be listened to on this issue, I would ask why the RSPCA, having drafted this legislation and having worked with me over a number of months when I originally tabled this Bill, has suddenly changed its position. Nothing has changed except that it has decided to go down a different route.

I am sure the noble Lord will have noticed that the RSPCA lobbied him on dog licensing. Dog licensing has failed almost everywhere. There is dog licensing in Northern Ireland, but only a quarter to a third of people take it up. This is not about making more legislation for the people who are responsible; it is about targeting people who are irresponsible. I am glad that the noble Lord said that this was a probing amendment and that he will not press it.

On the second point, this Bill was unfortunately, as were many Private Members' Bills, held up by the AV Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said that I acted improperly. However, when the Bill was last scheduled to be heard on the Friday, the noble Lord had not tabled any amendments. I was going to talk to him about that, but no amendments were tabled until 5.30 on the Thursday night before the Friday sitting. It was quite clear that business time was stretched. Noble Lords had been sitting throughout the night and were unhappy about sitting late on a Friday, so the Whips Office felt that it had no option but to cancel the business. It was not my decision; it was taken by the Whips' Office, and I think it was perfectly proper.

However, the issue that I am slightly perturbed about is that Private Members' Bills are a way of expressing an interest in a situation. I had to cancel a large number of radio interviews and the organisations concerned had to cancel the press releases that they were doing to get the message across to the public.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord briefly. I did say that I had made several attempts to have a word with his office. I even had a word with the Defra officials to see whether I could contact him in order to explain our position, debate our approach to the Bill, and see whether we could find a way forward together. However, that contact was not forthcoming, so we were left in the position of having to go straight ahead. I might also say that it is not unusual for amendments to be tabled rather late in the day, as indeed some of the noble Lord's were last night.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my amendments were not tabled last night, but they ended up on the Marshalled List then because of the way in which they went through. The noble Lord's amendments were tabled at 5.30 in the afternoon. That is why I was slightly surprised. I apologise to the noble Lord for not getting back to him that week. I think that that week was slightly disrupted because we had been going through the night.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, asked why I made the remarks that I made the next morning. Private Members' Bills are quite hard. It is very easy to take lightly the amount of work done by a large number of people. I know that he would not take that position, but I do know that there were some very unhappy people and that I had to talk to a large number of them to explain the position.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, just a second; I am coming to the point which the noble Lord raised. I then sat in on the amendment that he was talking about. He was berating the Government for the late tabling of amendments. On that basis, I raised this issue myself because there are few opportunities to do so when legislation goes through this House. I thought it appropriate to do so.

I also raised the issue of wrecking amendments because the proposal that Clause 1 should stand part goes to the very heart of the Bill. If that amendment had been passed, it would have destroyed the Bill. The noble Lord has said that this is a probing amendment. I take his word for it, and if my words were inappropriate, I apologise for them. However, I was put in a position that perhaps many noble Lords find themselves in; they have done a great deal of work and then, because of what actually happens, they find that they have to do the work yet again. It was not entirely a criticism of the noble Lord, and I apologise if he took it as such. We have worked on this issue on a number of occasions and I have nothing but respect for that position. However, tempers were raised by the AV Bill, because obviously we had been going for quite a long time on it, and then all private legislation was pushed back.

This is something that I am particularly exercised about. I have had hundreds and hundreds of letters on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said that the results of the consultation initiated under the previous Government have come in. An analysis of the people who responded in writing to the consultation-it was a very large one, and I understand Defra will have difficulty getting through and analysing the information properly-shows that 70 per cent are actually in favour of this legislation. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion that Clause 1 should not stand part.

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2 : Control of dogs

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Redesdale

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out "No person shall" and insert "It is an offence to"

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 15 and 16. The reason for these amendments is quite clear. A number of issues were raised at Second Reading. This is a complicated matter with many unforeseen circumstances, and it was during the Second Reading debate that I came to believe that it was important to try to address some of those real issues. It was put to me that we should retain the concept of an aggravated offence and set more severe penalties for it. It seems entirely reasonable that the penalty for allowing your dog to bite someone should be greater than allowing it to show unprovoked aggression. It also seems entirely reasonable that allowing your dog to cause severe injury to or occasionally the death of a person should be treated as a serious offence with serious consequences. That is what these amendments seek to achieve.

Amendments 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 make it a more serious offence if the dog causes actual injury to the person and, in effect, mirrors the current offence set out in Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Amendments 15 and 16 deal with the penalties, and again mirror those in the existing legislation. They allow for someone accused of the aggravated offence to be tried in a Crown Court with the increase in penalty that that implies. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, I declare an interest as a dog owner and I regret not having taken part in these proceedings before. As a dog owner I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to remove the words "aggressive or" from line 13, but he has left in the words "dangerously out of control". Who decides what "dangerously out of control" is? For instance, if a dog were to bark at a stranger on, shall we say, a public footpath in the country, the dog might only be saying hello in the way that some dogs do. But the person who has been barked at, especially if they have young children with them on an enjoyable stroll in the countryside, might regard that as a dog being dangerously out of control. My question to the noble Lord is this: is that an offence in the eye of the receiver? How is it to be decided? This seems to me to be very important because there really is enormous scope for confusion on the issue.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

This is one of the major problems of legislating in this area. However, the Bill provides that an authorised person brings the control notice and would be the person to whom the offence would be reported. This would probably be an official of the local council or a police officer, and it would be someone with knowledge of the issues.

The issues surrounding the phrase "dangerously out of control" are quite important. If a dog is on the street without a lead, or if it is a certain breed of dog without a muzzle on, which you would expect, or if it snarls at a person, then those are circumstances in which the dog is dangerously out of control. Obviously there are circumstances for which the phrase would not be appropriate, such as when a dog is barking. Indeed, a later amendment clarifies that if a dog is being kept under control in a garden with secure fences and a warning has been given, if it then barks, that is normal for a dog and therefore would not be taken into account here. The problem is that in our inner cities, in many instances, fear is generated by people walking dogs over which they have little control and it can be shown that the dog is causing a problem. That has to be taken up with the authorised person who will have training for these circumstances, and a degree of common sense will need to be used.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says about dogs in cities, on leads and all the rest. Is he therefore saying that a dog that merely barks at a stranger on a public footpath in the countryside would not fall foul of this Bill?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

Yes, my Lords. However, I shall cite an occasion when I was in my own woodland and someone was trespassing with three Alsatians, which surrounded me. The person, who had not been there until that moment, walked up and found it amusing that these dogs were growling at me in a stand-off position. I did not know who the dogs belonged to or what their intentions were. I would count that as a situation in which the dogs were dangerously out of control. Subsequently I found out that one of them had bitten a postman on the drive and really should not have been off the lead in the first place.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I accept his assurance that the example I have given is very different from the one that he gave and that my example will not be caught by the Bill.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 10:30 am, 4th March 2011

That said, my Lords, in the instance that my noble friend has just given, surely the dogs were out of control but not dangerously out of control. They might have become dangerous later. Therefore, what is "dangerously" doing in line 14?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, if they cause fear that is a situation. However, we should take this in context. If noble Lords would read the Bill, its purpose is not to go down the route of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that any offence leads to the dogs being taken away and destroyed. If a control notice is given, it might be that it implies only that the owner should keep the dog on a lead in public places. It might imply that the owner should muzzle the dog or that the owner should undergo training. Many of these notices would stop all the problems that then go forward. Many of the dogs that attack children have a reputation for being out of control. Many dogs that attack other dogs go on to attack people. The purpose of this Bill is to bring about an early intervention at that point so that a control notice can be introduced which is appropriate to the situation.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, this group of amendments by and large improves the drafting yet there may still be one or two problems, as have been raised today by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. From our Benches, we wish only to draw attention to Amendments 3, 6 and 7. Would Amendment 3 cover adequately the situation where gang members may encourage dogs to be intimidating perhaps only by their presence, by being with the dog and exhibiting the body language of aggression? We wonder whether that would take account of that situation. Would Amendment 6 criminalise every incident, however minor? We have concerns there. Amendment 7 clarifies that guard dogs could still be used, but would that leave the postman as a potential casualty?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on the issues raised we believe that these would be proportionate responses. The issue of postmen is covered in a later part of the Bill, especially regarding private land.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, before we leave this subject, does the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, not accept-he should accept it-that the construction of the Bill depends upon the courts, not upon what he says in this House? Therefore, on the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the magistrates might take a totally different view from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. The highest that he can put it at this moment is that it is his view that, properly construed, the Bill means X, Y or Z. He certainly cannot give an assurance that that is the way in which the courts would interpret it.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am certainly not arrogant enough to assume that I could dictate to the magistrates how they should look at the provision. They will do it on the evidence that is placed before them. However, the magistrates might take the opinion that a dog out of control on one occasion could be stopped from being out of control by being put on a lead. They would therefore go with the minor but effective measure of making sure that the person keeps the dog on a lead. If the person does not do that, it is a secondary issue and the situation will therefore become far more serious on a second offence. This was looked at particularly because of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised when I brought the Bill forward the first time round. I hope that he will take comfort from the fact that it was his intervention that first time which caused many hours of dispute on this subject. That is why many of the amendments have been drafted in the way that they have.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, I do not want to prolong the proceedings, but the noble Lord has already admitted that a dog on a lead that is barking at someone at close quarters could be regarded as being aggressive.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

Yes, my Lords, but a dog on a lead is not dangerously out of control. A dog off a lead would be dangerously out of control but a dog on a lead is under control.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendments 2 and 3

Moved by Lord Redesdale

2: Clause 2, page 1, line 13, leave out "aggressive or"

3: Clause 2, page 1, line 15, after "dog" insert "for which they are responsible"

Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.

Amendment 4

Moved by Lord Redesdale

4: Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at beginning insert "protected"

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, there was seen to be a problem with the original drafting of the Bill, which would have made it an offence to allow a dog to show aggression to any animal. That could include allowing a dog to chase a wild animal, even-I have to raise this issue-a squirrel, and that seems unreasonable. This issue was raised at Second Reading and it was one on which we said, "Ah, we got this one totally wrong". The effect of the amendment is to restrict the offence to allowing a dog to be aggressive or to intimidate protected animals. The term protected is already defined in the Bill as that in the Animal Welfare Act.

What would happen is that this would give a dog the freedom to behave like a dog and to chase wild animals without any fear of the owner being prosecuted. However, it would remain an offence to allow your dog to attack another dog or domestic animal. There has been much publicity recently, as I said earlier, about Guide Dogs for the Blind being attacked and unable to continue to work as a result. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. He has taken out "aggressive or" from Clause 2(1)(a) but has left those words in Clause 2(1)(b). Is that intentional or should those words come out of Clause 2(1)(b) as well?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will have to look at that. There is obviously another stage of the Bill and I will look to make sure that that is not an error in the drafting.

Amendment 4 agreed.

Amendments 5 to 7

Moved by Lord Redesdale

5: Clause 2, page 1, line 17, leave out "keep a dog that has attacked" and insert "allow a dog for which they are responsible to attack"

6: Clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert-

"A person responsible for a dog that injures any person shall be guilty of an aggravated offence."

7: Clause 2, page 1, line 22, leave out from "was" to "committing" in line 23

Amendments 5 to 7 agreed.

Amendment 8

Moved by Lord Redesdale

8: Clause 2, page 1, line 24, at end insert-

"( ) the person or protected animal was in a place where they were not permitted to be which was enclosed by adequately maintained and substantial boundaries which would reasonably be expected to be capable of restraining a dog and which was clearly marked to warn such persons against entering;

( ) the dog is being used for a lawful purpose by a person licensed by a body established by the Private Security Industry Act 2001 or a person who complies with BS8517-1;"

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the purpose of Amendments 8, 9 and 18 is to clarify the situations in which it is reasonable for a dog to show aggression. The Bill protects a dog's owner from any prosecution if the dog bites a burglar or a mugger. It seems right to me that any dog's owner should feel secure in the knowledge that his dogs will defend him and his house against someone threatening him or breaking into his house. It has been put to me that a dog in its owner's garden with a good secure fence surrounding it, with clear warning signs that a dog is within, would be expressing only normal behaviour if it should show aggression to someone entering the garden.

It has also been pointed out that, in addition to dogs used by the Crown to protect property, there are now private security companies providing similar protection services. Those companies are licensed by the Security Industry Authority and there is now a British Standard that covers their training and use. Dogs are also used for similar purposes as part of displays. Those dogs compete against each other at trials to demonstrate their ability to control someone who is dressed as an intruder and wearing appropriate protective clothing. I believe that it would be unreasonable to prevent the continuation of such displays.

Amendment 8 seeks to allow the dog to behave naturally and for the owner to be protected if he has taken reasonable precautions to ensure that his dog is properly under control. The second part of the amendment seeks to protect those companies while they are being used at work. Amendment 18 defines the companies. Amendment 9 seeks to exempt dogs being used at such trials. The real effect of these amendments together is to broaden the number of situations in which a dog may lawfully show unprovoked aggression to include dogs kept under control on private properties, dogs used as commercially registered guard dogs and dogs at work trials.

The amendments have taken many hours of negotiation with a number of bodies. The great value of a Private Member's Bill is that certain issues can be brought forward so that, if this Bill ever goes forward to another place or is accepted by the Government in another form of legislation, many of these issues will already have been aired. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord referred in passing to the Security Industry Authority. Is he aware that late on Monday night we had a debate on the Public Bodies Bill where it was clearly the intention of the Government to abolish the statutory basis of the authority? For clarification, I should like to know whether, if it no longer had statutory authority, that body could perform the role that the noble Lord envisages in this legislation.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asks me to tread on difficult and prickly ground. That is beyond my pay grade on these Benches. There has been much discussion about the Security Industry Authority's roles and responsibilities. It is one of the organisations that will be carrying on for a while, and I am sure that its responsibilities will be passed on to another organisation. It might not have to be regulated to deal with this role.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords)

Amendment 8 would allow for guard dogs with adequate safeguards to be outside the scope of the noble Lord's Dog Control Bill. Is that enough? He mentions that the RSPCA has swung behind the police, as if the RSPCA had not come forward with concerns about other areas in its briefing. This is one such area where it has expressed concern; it could lead to a flood of "Beware" signs going up all around the countryside, as if that would somehow allow due defence for dogs undertaking aggressive actions in people's gardens and properties. The society draws attention to possible situations involving children. What would be the definition of adequately maintained boundaries, when we all know that fences between one person's garden and another can become very insubstantial? Would the amendment now also allow guard dogs to be held by doormen in front of establishments such as nightclubs? Would that now be a permitted defence and use of dogs?

On Amendment 9, also in this group, the RSPCA has also drawn to our attention its concern that the Bill, particularly Clause 2(3), allows a lot of leeway whereby responsible dog ownership is somehow being neglected while the Bill merely focuses on attacks. Perhaps the noble Lord could comment on that.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 10:45 am, 4th March 2011

My Lords, I am slightly surprised. I do not think that the Bill gives any leeway for guard dogs outside nightclubs. That would not be seen as acceptable by anyone going into the nightclub, and I would be surprised if any nightclub owner actually employed dogs outside their club. I do not think that that is an issue.

The second issue is that I am surprised that the RSPCA is worried about a plethora of signs going up. I have been lobbied quite heavily by the Communication Workers Union, representing postal workers, because one of the largest numbers of attacks by dogs is on postmen. It would be only appropriate that those people who had dogs that could lead to an attack should make the postman, above anyone else, aware that there was a dog inside the garden that might bite them so that they could leave the post in the post box outside.

It is not just postmen who have to beware. Many noble Lords, though not all, have been in the situation that I have when we have been out at elections on the stump and have had to exit a property rapidly because of a small dog that is intent on ripping large chunks out of people. It is not just large dogs that people have to be aware of; in a recent study, conducted almost across the world, miniature dachshunds were mentioned. If you get bitten by a miniature dachshund it is slightly more amusing than being bitten by a Staffordshire bull terrier, but I think that I should raise the issue.

The purpose of the Bill is to say that dog owners should be responsible. We are not saying that the dog should not be in the garden, but if a dog is in the garden then warning should be given.

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendment 9 agreed.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed.

Clause 3 : Dog control notices

Amendment 10

Moved by Lord Redesdale

10: Clause 3, page 2, line 28, leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert-

"(5) In this Act an "authorised officer" in the context of any provision, means a person appointed to be an authorised officer for the purposes of that provision by-

(a) the appropriate national authority;

(b) a local authority; or

(c) a police officer who complies with subsection (6).

(6) In appointing any person to be such an authorised officer for the purposes of this Act, the appropriate national authority, local authority or police authority is to satisfy itself that the person is skilled in the control of dogs and has the capacity to instruct and advise others in matters relating to the control of dogs."

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

I shall speak also to Amendment 10A. I apologise to noble Lords; on reviewing the amendments, it was realised that a section of Amendment 10 had been left out, which would have caused a problem. That was spotted only this week, and it is why this amendment has been added.

The police have made it clear to me that they need to be able to issue dog control notices where dog owners are behaving irresponsibly and encouraging their dogs to be aggressive. This is particularly the case with regard to gang members, the issue that the noble Lord raised. These are the so-called "status dogs" about which there has been so much in the press in recent months.

Amendment 10 enables an appropriately trained police officer to issue a dog control notice in addition to an authorised local authority officer. The ability to issue a notice is limited to police officers who have shown their competence when dealing with dogs, and I intend here primarily officers from dog sections or the dog legislation officers that were introduced as a result of guidance issued by Defra in 2009. This goes back to a question that was raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Amendments 11, 12 and 14 are subsequent to Amendment 10 to ensure that the records to be kept by local authorities are comprehensive.

If the police believe that they need the power to issue dog control notices, it seems correct that they should be allowed to do so. However, not all police officers are knowledgeable about dog behaviour, so limiting the power to specifically trained officers is reasonable. They should therefore be competent to issue appropriate notices. The local authority would retain the responsibility to keep the records of all notices, and consequently the police would have a duty to inform the authority of any notices issued.

I should add that the purpose of the Bill is not to give a great deal more responsibility to the police or to be a burden in these financially straitened times. We believe that the Bill would save a great deal of money because not every dog will cause a problem; 99 per cent of dogs cause no problem to anyone at all and their owners are responsible. It would allow the police to target particular individuals-in this case, I suggest, people who deal in drugs, as in a case I came across recently in Newcastle where a person was not carrying a knife because that would have led to action by the police but had two extremely aggressive dogs to be used for exactly the same purposes, to cause fear and raise the status of the individual-and those dogs. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, I do not want to turn this debate into a drafting session, but there is a phrase in this amendment that I do not think that I have ever seen before. It says that,

"the appropriate national authority, local authority or police authority is to satisfy itself".

I have seen wording saying that something "must" satisfy itself or that it "could" satisfy itself-I have even seen the words "should" satisfy itself-but I have never seen, "is to satisfy itself". I wonder what it means.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

The noble Lord's eye for detail is legendary in this regard. I will look again at the wording at a later stage and, if it is not fit for purpose, I shall bring back an amendment.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

When the noble Lord is looking at these two proposed new subsections to Clause 3, perhaps he could look again at subsection (5)(a). I note that it means any local authority or police officer, within the proviso given by subsection (6)-but what on earth is an "appropriate national authority" in this case?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the wording of this amendment is to try to give as much latitude as possible but also to ensure that the area is dealt with by those with knowledge. There is a grouping within local authorities that understands present dog legislation, just as there are groupings within the police that understand the legislation. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that that knowledge is used so that we do not end up with a situation in which any police officer at any point can bring about an action that might be inappropriate.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend has misunderstood my point, which I may have abbreviated a little too much. I am looking at proposed new subsection (5)(a), which talks about an "appropriate national authority". I am not sure what makes a national authority appropriate in this case but, in any event, the word by definition must be restrictive.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the appropriate authority is the one that would be the most logical home in any area for this information to be taken, because there have been changes and not all authorities are constructed in the same way around the country. I shall look again at the wording and question whether it is appropriate.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

I am a bit surprised that that is the noble Lord's intention. I thought that "appropriate national authority" meant the reputable doggy quangos-that sort of thing-or the RSPCA. That type of authority would seem to me to be appropriate. I am not sure what the noble Lord has in mind.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the RSPCA would not take on the role of an enforcement agency on this, and doggy quangos would I imagine be first on the list in the Bill mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We are looking at local authorities and such groupings that will act on their behalf.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

If the noble Lord will forgive me, my noble friend is totally right. You cannot have a statute which involves penal provisions implemented in different parts of the country. This is an absolute nonsense.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, under the present enforcement of dog legislation, there are a number of different bodies under different parts of the country. For example, in London there is a status dogs unit in the Metropolitan Police. That is not replicated in the same way anywhere else, so I do not think that you could say that one appropriate authority is taken on by a number of different organisations.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, this area highlights the very nature of dog legislation to encompass all the technicalities. It has only highlighted the very great difficulties that we have in trying to get control of the situation. These amendments are redrafted amendments in light of the criticism that this Bill was transferring dog control from the police to local authorities. The noble Lord has sought here to try to share the responsibility in some way. However, it is not entirely clear where responsibility will lie between the police and local authorities and who will be the appropriate supervising overall authority in this situation.

We understand that ACPO is not generally in favour of repealing Section 1 at the moment. It wants to get control of the situation, as it is concerned about the large volume of dogs which are in the wrong hands and about public safety. So how exactly the responsibility between local authorities and the police will be divided is still largely unclear to me. Will the change be to local authorities, keeping present police officers as merely dog wardens? How will they be funded when given this new responsibility? The noble Lord spoke about the pressure on local authority budgets. We are far from convinced that there will be the savings that he suggests.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the approach of the Bill is not to bring about savings, and I am rather surprised by the position taken by the Opposition on this. Anybody who has ever been in a situation when an out-of-control dog has caused them fear would find it unacceptable that there is a lack of ability for enforcement in many situations. An attack actually has to take place for anything to happen. I was contacted by letter by a very concerned person who said that down their street was a Rottweiler that was out of control on many occasions; it had been reported to the police, who said that they had no powers to act until the Rottweiler had actually bitten somebody. They wrote to me later and said that, now the Rottweiler had actually bitten somebody, the police had taken it in hand. We should be in a position to act at a much earlier stage, so that the police can deal with these situations before they become far more serious.

On the point about savings, Section 1 has cost the Metropolitan Police £10 million over three years, by taking the dogs off the street so that they have then to be kept in kennels, where they become even more desocialised. Many of those dogs, because it is so difficult to prove that they are pit bulls, are returned to their owners. I find it incredible that we are taking the dogs off the street and then nobody points out that they are going back to their owners. The legal costs are enormous. If that £10 million was spent not on enforcing Section 1 but on the provision of this Bill, it would pay for the measures in this Bill and bring about a saving.

Amendment agreed.

Amendment 10A

Moved by Lord Redesdale

10A: Clause 3, page 2, line 34, at end insert-

"( ) Any authorised officer serving a dog control notice must notify the appropriate local authority."

Amendment 10A agreed.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed.

Clause 6 : Duty of local authority to monitor effectiveness of and to enforce dog control notice etc.

Amendments 11 and 12

Moved by Lord Redesdale

11: Clause 6, page 5, line 3, leave out "A local" and insert "An appointing"

12: Clause 6, page 5, line 10, leave out "appointed by the authority"

Amendments 11 and 12 agreed.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed.

Clause 7 : Failure to comply with dog control notice

Amendment 13

Moved by Lord Redesdale

13: Clause 7, page 5, line 29, at end insert-

"( ) Where a court so orders the destruction of a dog under subsection (2)(b) P may appeal against the order to the crown court."

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the purpose of Amendment 13 is that a court may issue an order for the destruction of a dog. It seems reasonable that when such drastic measures are to be taken, the owner must have the right to appeal to save the life of the dog. In many circumstances, a dog that may or may not have shown aggression is someone's beloved pet, and the owner deserves the right to appeal a death sentence on that dog. The amendment introduces an appeal procedure when a destruction order has been made by a court. The amendment will allow natural justice by allowing an appeal against the most drastic sentences for the dog. I beg to move.

Amendment 13 agreed.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed.

Clause 8: Discharge or variation of dog control notice at instigation of local authority

Amendment 14

Moved by Lord Redesdale

14: Clause 8, page 6, line 6, leave out "A local" and insert "An appointing"

Amendment 14 agreed.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed.

Clause 9 agreed.

Clause 10: Prosecution

Amendments 15 and 16

Moved by Lord Redesdale

15: Clause 10, page 6, line 29, leave out subsection (1)

16: Clause 10, page 6, line 41, leave out paragraphs (e) and (f) and insert-

"( ) on summary conviction other than for the aggravated offence, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale;

( ) on summary conviction for the aggravated offence, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or a fine not exceeding the statutory minimum, or both; or

( ) on indictment for the aggravated offence, imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine, or both"

Amendments 15 and 16 agreed.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Repeals

Amendment 17

Moved by Lord Redesdale

17: Clause 12, page 8, line 5, at end insert-

"( ) the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989;"

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 17 repeals the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989. The Act amends the Dogs Act 1871, which is already repealed under my Bill. This is an important measure because it tidies up pieces of legislation. From the Government's point of view, we are not introducing an additional piece of legislation; we are introducing one but repealing three. That is totally in line with the purpose of the "one in, one out" rule. I beg to move.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed.

Clause 13 : Short title, interpretation, commencement and extent

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Redesdale

18: Clause 13, page 8, line 23, at end insert "or a person licensed by a body established by the Private Security Industry Act 2001 or a person who complies with BS8517-1"

Amendment 18 agreed.

Amendments 19 and 20 not moved.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed.

Debate on whether the Schedule should be agreed.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I notice that paragraph 3 of the Schedule says that the,

"database operator must ... provide the information in section 6 free of charge to authorised third parties during all normal working hours".

That sounds perfectly reasonable. However, if you go on to sub-paragraph (3)-I am referring to a point I made about the word "appropriate" in a debate on an earlier Clause-it says, "any police constable", or, more importantly,

"any representative of the Secretary of State; or .. any representative of the local authority".

If a national authority has to be "appropriate" in one part of the Bill, surely it should be "appropriate" in the other. I believe that it should be appropriate in neither.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have given an undertaking to look at the word "appropriate" again. I will obviously discuss this with the noble Lord. The purpose of the Schedule is to ensure that the provision is not limited to those who are appropriate who can undertake this action.

Photo of Lord Richard Lord Richard Labour

My Lords, before we leave Committee, I have a simple thing to say. The noble Lord will have realised from his experiences at Second Reading and the consultations that he has had-and, indeed, from this Committee-that this is an extraordinarily complex and rather technical matter. I have restrained myself in terms of the drafting of the Bill with, I am bound to say, commendable zeal in the past half hour or so. I wonder whether the Government should not perhaps take this issue over, look at it, and produce its own legislation. The matter needs to be dealt with. I am not sure that the Bill is an appropriate way of doing so.

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think my words in the clause stand part debate at the outset of the Committee were very clear on that point.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. It would be excellent if the Government took over this legislation and moved forward with it; that would be the answer to my dreams. The noble Lord will know that this is a very complicated area. Some of the questions that have been raised over the drafting are due to its complex nature. This has not just been thrown together. It has been worked on by a large number of people. Sometimes the intent of the words is the result of an enormous amount of debate on extremely emotive issues.

No piece of dogs legislation would be perfect. Nobody is going to be happy. I have noticed this from the large number of letters that I have now received, including "My dog should be allowed to bite anybody who comes anywhere near my property" and across the board. This has been an extremely difficult issue to work on.

The noble Lord has given me an opportunity to sum up briefly before the Bill goes forward. This area needs to be addressed. I quite understand that there are difficulties with the legislation. The former Government undertook a review, and the present Government are looking at the review. It would be irresponsible not to deal with this issue considering that the number of dog attacks has risen year on year, and that the number of children killed by dogs which fall into a category that did not exist 20 years ago has increased year on year.

The purpose is not just to bring another piece of legislation before the House and Parliament. This issue affects people around the country, day by day. I have known from the letters I have received, some of which are quite harrowing, how people's lives can be ruined by the fact that somebody else has a dog of which they are terrified, such as old people who are terrified of going out to the shops in case they meet dogs of this nature. That situation has to be addressed.

The whole purpose of this legislation is not against dogs. I have owned dogs in the past. I do not own one at the moment; my children are desperate for us to own one in the future. I am keen on dogs being owned responsibly. However, there are two problems. First, there is a group of people who are causing a problem in the ownership of dogs. Secondly, responsibility must lie not with the dog itself, because tens of thousands of dogs have been treated badly and de-socialised, and have to be destroyed, which is an animal welfare issue. The responsibility must rest with the owner, and that is the purpose of this Bill.

Schedule agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported with amendments.