My Lords, we have no plans to reintroduce the dog licence. The previous dog licensing scheme ceased in 1987 because it cost more to run than it took in revenue, due in part to the low compliance rate of around 40%.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am sure he will agree with me that this is probably the right time to raise this Question, particularly when people get a dog or a puppy for Christmas, then find it very demanding and turn it out at a later date. I remind the noble Lord that in 2010, 70% of those canvassed favoured a return to a dog licensing scheme. Does he know that there is one in Northern Ireland? It functions very well and almost 100% of dogs are microchipped? Dog wardens have more control over the people who own dangerous dogs. Why cannot we follow the example set by Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord is a staunch campaigner on doggie matters. What we are doing—he referred to this—and which goes a long way to achieving what people want from a licensing scheme, is introducing compulsory microchipping under which the record of a dog’s ownership will be maintained on a database.
Following on from what has just been said, may I say how delighted I am at what I have just heard the Minister say? It has always seemed to me that there are those who particularly need dogs and who love them dearly. They go out and buy food for them and take them to the vet; the dog is their regular company. I declare an interest; I have a lurcher who is five years old. If I fall asleep after lunch he always wakes me up precisely at 3.30 pm. That shows what a good dog does.
My Lords, I am one of those who wear a dog collar in this House—and for the privilege of doing so I have to be licensed. But as far as I am aware, no fees have been paid. Might I suggest that enough is enough?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has stolen my thunder, in a sense. I was going to ask: because of the increasing number of dangerous dog incidents, would it not be worth having a look at licensing the owners?
The noble Lord raises an important point. This is why we have legislated this year to tighten up on the dangerous dogs legislation. Now is not the moment to go into detail, but he has a very important point and the new legislation goes to the particular problems that have arisen in recent years.
My Lords, following on from that point, this is a time of year when the number of postal workers attacked by dogs rises quite considerably. We should not underestimate the number of hospital admissions that also take place due to dangerous dogs. Having campaigned on this issue for a number of years, I was encouraged when the Minister said that the Government were looking at further measures to link the owner to the dog through a microchip. Will he say what measures they might well bring forward to reduce the number of dog attacks?
Does my noble friend agree that perhaps in retrospect he was a little dismissive of our long-standing and much loved dog licensing scheme? Disraeli introduced it in 1874 and the cost—7s 6d—was exactly the same 113 years later. Of how many government schemes can this be said?
My Lords, perish the thought that I should be dismissive. My noble friend put his finger on the problem, which was that the price had not gone up and therefore it became uneconomic to continue the scheme.
My Lords, as one who sought in vain to introduce a dog registration scheme allied to microchipping in the mid-1980s, can my noble friend expand on exactly what the Government plan to do now? He referred to it only briefly.
My Lords, with effect from April 2016, it will be a legal requirement that every dog is microchipped and that its owner’s details will be maintained on a database. What is encouraging is that since the time we announced the consultation, when about 58% of dogs were microchipped, the figure has already risen to 70%.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that compulsory microchipping actually achieves the main purpose of dog licensing, which is to know who the owners are of all dogs? Does he also agree that nuisance from dogs, on the street in town centres or wherever, requires quite intensive action by local authorities, which they are increasingly unable to provide because of the draconian spending cuts that are being enforced on them?
I agree with the first half of my noble friend’s contention. In terms of addressing the second half, that is why we introduced the measures that we did in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which we explained in a manual to authorities to make it easier for them to enforce action against irresponsible owners of dogs.