Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 16th January 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:10 pm, 16th January 2003

We move to the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S1M-3241, in the name of Mr Keith Harding, on the general principles of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 3:37 pm, 16th January 2003

At the outset, I declare my registered interest as a member of Stirling Council.

It gives me great pleasure to invite the Parliament to approve the general principles of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill. I place on record my gratitude and thanks to my researcher Alison Miller, whose enthusiasm and commitment have played a large part in the bill's reaching this stage. I also thank David Cullum, Alison Campbell and Ruaraidh Macniven of the Scottish Parliament non-Executive bills unit, without whose unstinting advice and support the bill would not have progressed from the initial idea.

I am pleased that the Local Government Committee supported my bill in its report and I am pleased that the minister and his officials have been so supportive as the bill has developed. I hope that the development of my bill will be a model for the way in which members develop their legislative proposals in the future.

I thank the Local Government Committee, its clerks and its convener, Trish Godman, for the constructive way in which they approached stage 1 and for their clear and informative report. The committee took evidence from people who represented a range of interests. The fact that not all those people were initially supportive has meant that although the committee's report supports the bill, it indicates some areas in which change would make it even better. I also thank those who gave written or oral evidence to the committee.

Dog fouling is a subject that attracts many complaints to our postbags. People complain that dog fouling is widespread and that nothing is done about it. Dog fouling affects people on the ground, perhaps to a greater extent than any other issue. One thousand tonnes of the stuff is produced per day throughout the United Kingdom.

Local councils and councillors receive many more complaints than we do. The restrictions that the current law imposes make many of them feel powerless. The reality of the current law is that dog fouling cannot be a priority for the police. It should not always be a police matter and it seems inappropriate to criminalise offenders, at least in the first instance. My short bill addresses all those problems.

The bill replaces the relevant provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which made it an offence to let one's dog foul, with provisions that make it an offence to fail to clear up after the dog has fouled. That is what we want to achieve—the removal of offending material. The bill will mean that the residents of Edinburgh's Fowler Terrace will no longer describe their street as being aptly named—as was reported to me by a former resident of that inner-city tenement area. Dog fouling is a blight wherever it is not prevented.

The bill provides for the requirement to clean up to apply to virtually all public open places. It will cover almost any place to which the public or a section of the public has access. That includes areas where dog fouling results in many complaints, such as common back greens and gardens, all public parks and recreation areas and all pavements and roads. One person described the proposed area as "clear and acceptable".

I am pleased that the committee has accepted the need for that wide definition. That allows enforcement to take place where there is a problem and where people complain. It also gives councils a wide discretion so that they can tackle problem areas.

The person responsible for clearing up is the person who is in charge of the dog at the time, regardless of whether that person is the owner. However, the bill continues to ensure that there are exemptions for those who are blind and adds a new exemption for persons who have a disability that affects their ability to clear up where they are in charge of dogs that are trained to assist them with that disability. In practice, such people are not the problem, as they tend to behave responsibly. Other exemptions are provided for the dog itself, particularly where the dog is a working dog. For example, exemptions will be provided for police dogs when they are on duty and for emergency rescue dogs—again, when they are working.

As I said, a major problem with the current legislation is that the police have other priorities that are more pressing. Another problem is that prosecution must go through the procurator fiscal and into the busy court system. My bill will largely change all that. The police will, if they wish, still be able to take enforcement action on the new offence, but I envisage that the bulk of enforcement will be carried out by local councils. That seems entirely appropriate, given the fact that councils receive the bulk of complaints. The bill gives councils the means so that, if they wish, they can tackle dog-fouling problems.

I say "if they wish" not because councils can opt out of the legislation—they cannot—but because it will be a matter for local councils to decide on the relative priority to be given to dealing with dog fouling and to allocate resources accordingly. In doing that, as with all their activities, councils will be accountable to the local population. If there is a demand to address the problem of dog fouling in a particular area, my bill gives the council the means to do so quickly, effectively and in a cost-efficient manner.

Under my bill, councils are required to authorise at least one person, and are given the power to authorise any number of other persons, to issue fixed-penalty notices to offenders. They can authorise existing staff, such as dog wardens or perhaps cleaning staff—who, after all, must currently clean it up. As with all activities, councils will need to provide adequate training and supervision for their staff.

Unlike under the current law, there need be only one witness to an offence for a penalty to be issued. I am again grateful to the committee for its thorough consideration of the adequacy of that provision. The committee's conclusion was that there are enough safeguards in place to make a single witness sufficient.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member outline what those safeguards are?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

They are incorporated in the bill and in the policy memorandum.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

The member should read the bill and the policy memorandum, but what safeguards is he talking about?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The safeguards of which Mr Harding has just said that there were enough.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

The matter is dealt with in the policy memorandum and is too complex. The point is that there are sufficient safeguards so that there can be no witch-hunts against individuals or other criminal activities. Later in my speech I will deal with the question whether the person issuing the notice will be safeguarded, but that will be covered by the amendments that the Executive will lodge, which will improve the situation. There are many issues surrounding safeguards, but they are all in the policy memorandum—I recommend to Mr Rumbles that he read it.

Fixed penalty notices can be issued on the spot, or at a later date. Under the bill as it stands, such notices must be issued within 48 hours, but in line with the committee's recommendation, I will seek to amend that period to within seven days.

However, I hope and expect that most notices will be issued on the spot.

The bill sets the penalty at £40, which must be paid within 28 days. Otherwise, it automatically increases to £60. If the penalty is still not paid, the council can immediately start enforcement action. There is no necessity to involve the courts at all.

If a person wants to contest the issue of a penalty notice, they must request a hearing within the initial 28 days. That request is passed to the procurator fiscal. It then becomes a matter for the criminal process, and ultimately for the courts, to decide whether the offence was committed. If the person is found guilty, they will have a criminal conviction.

As I have indicated, from the early days the minister has been extremely supportive of the proposals in the bill. That support has led to various order-making powers being incorporated in the bill.

I am also grateful to the Subordinate Legislation Committee for its consideration of the proposals and its helpful suggestions as to the appropriate powers that should be granted to the minister. Those powers relate to altering the amount of the penalty, the contents of the notice that is issued and the number of days that will be allowed to pay the penalty. I will lodge the necessary stage 2 amendments to allow the requests from the Subordinate Legislation Committee to be considered.

I do not want to give the impression that my sole motivation is catching and penalising offenders. I doubt that the bill alone would eradicate the problem if that was all that was being aimed for. It is essential that the education of dog owners be given high priority. The Local Government Committee and I are delighted that the Executive will commit substantial resources to a public education campaign. Such a suggestion featured in evidence to the committee and also in replies to my consultation exercise. Only through the twin approach of education and enforceable penalties can dog fouling be efficiently addressed.

I turn briefly to a couple of other amendments that will be lodged at stage 2. Both flow from discussions with the Executive and are concerned with enforcement. One of the issues raised during the consultation was the potential problem for enforcement officers when offenders refuse to give their name and address. Unlike the police, such officers do not have powers to insist on details and it was not considered appropriate to give them such powers. However, the minister has indicated that the Executive will seek to add a provision to the bill so that the obstruction of officers who are authorised to issue fixed penalties will be a criminal offence. That should go a long way to preventing such problems from arising.

The other stage 2 amendment that I will lodge will seek to provide an appeal mechanism where there is a dispute between the recipient of a fixed-penalty ticket and the local council. My proposed amendment will cover disputes that could arise only in two circumstances: where a person claims to have requested a hearing but the council deny that; or where a person claims that they have paid the penalty within 28 days but the council nevertheless increases the penalty for non payment. I am sure that neither situation will ever arise but, just in case, the proposed amendment will seek to provide a means of resolving the dispute.

I conclude by urging all members of the Parliament to support my bill and to show that we can make a difference to the lives of our constituents with such a small measure.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 3:47 pm, 16th January 2003

I, too, declare an interest as a citizen who has often come across this problem and as a parent who spends too long at the sink—in the utility room, I hasten to add—trying to clean the kids' shoes after a spoiled visit to the park. I also declare an interest as a constituency MSP. Keith Harding has already spoken about the amount of mail about the subject that we get in our mailbags. I used to work in the cleansing service and the department had to deal with this very difficult issue. Clearly, Mr Harding has identified a problem with the current legislation and the Executive shares that view.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does the minister's wife have the same habits that I do? When my children came in with their feet covered in it, their shoes were left at the back door for their dad to deal with when he got home at night.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

That is absolutely the case. Perhaps we should have a vote in the chamber to see whether that habit is universal. Clearly that is an educational point that Tricia Marwick's mother has passed on to her.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

As Mr Harding has pointed out, the bill is a private member's bill, which is a process of which the Scottish Parliament should be proud. The issue might not be the biggest issue in Scotland and it might not be on the tip of everyone's tongue at the moment, but it affects the quality of life of our communities and we are therefore happy to support the bill.

I thank Mr Harding for the work that he has done with Executive officials. The bill is an exemplar of good practice in such matters. The non-Executive bills unit has also worked extremely hard to get the bill together. I thank Peter Peacock for his work at the Local Government Committee and I thank the committee, which worked very hard in its consideration of evidence on the bill. The bill is an excellent example of people working together and I hope that, with the support of the Parliament, we will have much improved legislation to tackle dog fouling.

I read with interest the committee's stage 1 report, which welcomes the policy intention of the bill and recommends that Parliament approve its general principles. The Executive endorses that view. Mr Harding's bill has coincided with the Executive's own review of existing dog fouling provisions, which we recognise as not being as effective as they should be in dealing with this annoying and disgusting problem.

We collectively worked our way through the draft bill and agreed the principles that it should contain prior to its introduction. Some changes have been agreed to following consideration of the bill by the committee, and they will be made in the form of amendments at stage 2 in a few weeks' time.

Under the current legislation there are considerable problems with the nature and extent of the offence, the lack of enforcement and the difficulties involved in obtaining evidence. All those issues have been addressed in the bill and the Executive therefore supports its general principles. The bill changes the emphasis from an offence of allowing a dog to foul to one of failing to clean up after it. The bill extends provisions to all public places and allows both the police and local authorities to enforce those provisions by way of fixed-penalty notices as an alternative to reporting offences to the procurator fiscal. It also removes the need for corroborative evidence.

Those who assisted in the development of the bill included Mr Harding himself, of course, through his consultation; the informal focus group that was established by the Executive, which comprised local government officials; those who gave evidence to the committee; and the committee itself. They all overwhelmingly supported the general principles of the bill.

The deliberations that took place resulted in concerns being expressed over the ability of local authority officers to enforce the proposed provisions. To assist those officers in that enforcement, we agreed with Mr Harding that it should be an offence to obstruct a local authority officer. The committee was advised of that when the Executive and Mr Harding gave evidence, and we will lodge an appropriate amendment at stage 2.

I was delighted to hear that the issue of owner education was raised during the committee's deliberations. We all support that in the context of the carrot-and-stick approach that is being adopted in the proposed legislation and in the debate around it. It is not only with the new legislative base that we are seeking to approve in the Parliament but by educating the dog-owning public that we can truly make a positive impact on the dog fouling problem.

Enforcement will undoubtedly play a part, particularly when the new provisions come into effect, but we also need to educate and encourage dog owners to change their attitudes and to act more responsibly. The Executive's commitment on that is clear. We have committed £100,000 to a publicity campaign, which should be delivered when the bill is passed, if that is what the Parliament decides to do. Our campaign will alert the public to the new legislation and will stress the importance of responsible dog ownership with regard to fouling and the positive impact that that will have on the quality of life of our communities. Given the problems that councils have with dog fouling, I know that I can rely on their support to work with the Executive in making the campaign a success.

Tackling the problem of dog fouling is an integral part of our wider quality-of-life initiative. The Executive is determined to do what it can to stamp out dog fouling and to encourage more responsible dog ownership. I hope that what I have said outlines why the Executive fully supports the principles of Mr Harding's bill, and I sincerely hope that it will have the necessary cross-party support to complete its passage successfully before the end of the session.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 3:53 pm, 16th January 2003

I congratulate Keith Harding on his determination in introducing the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill and on persuading the Executive to support it, which was no mean feat.

I regret that it has been necessary for an individual member to introduce the bill in the first place. I have said this before and will say it again, because it is worth repeating: the measures contained in the bill, along with proposals to tackle litter, fireworks and so on, could all have been accommodated in a new civic government bill to replace the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. It is regrettable that, at the end of almost four years and after considerable work has been undertaken by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Executive has not introduced such a bill and that we are not discussing that instead today.

That is not to take away from Keith Harding's determination or from the worthiness of the bill before us. COSLA is considering civic government proposals, but it recognises that they will be a long time coming and that a stand-alone bill will find support more quickly.

Everybody acknowledges that the current legislation is inadequate and does not work. To the huge frustration of councils and councillors, the legislation is clearly inadequate to deal with dog fouling and has been so probably since the hour that it was drafted. That is why it is right and proper that the Parliament should discuss the bill. I know that members and people outside the Parliament are wondering or turning up their noses at our discussion of something that they might not consider important, but the Parliament is about legislating and it is for the Parliament to put in place the legislative framework to allow councils to undertake the job that citizens expect them to undertake.

Changing the emphasis from an offence of allowing a dog to foul to one of failing to clear up after a dog has fouled is the proper way to go. It is a pity that previous legislation did not make that big leap. If it had, perhaps we would not have had the problems with implementing it.

The bill proposes that fixed-penalty notices should be issued. Keith Harding has said that he will consider an amendment at stage 2 to ensure that the time limit for issuing a fixed-penalty notice is seven days and not 72 hours, which is the limit in the bill. I commend Keith Harding's willingness to consider amendments, which is to his credit. He and the rest of the members who are in the chamber genuinely want a good bill. I commend Keith Harding for working to achieve that.

The bill gives local government officers the power to issue fixed-penalty notices. That is a major new power that is a precedent for future legislation on a subject such as litter. Just as the emphasis on dog fouling has changed, so will allowing council officers to issue fixed-penalty notices in other circumstances be the leap that is needed to ensure that legislation on a subject such as litter is enforceable. I commend Keith Harding for introducing such a provision.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does Tricia Marwick not feel that the bill is little too blasé and that someone's guilt is to be decided casually? Is Keith Harding seriously suggesting that a council official who simply has "reason to believe" that someone is guilty of an offence can issue a fixed penalty? Does Tricia Marwick suggest that we should go down that route on other issues, too?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

What a fool.

The bill contains provisions that allow challenges to be made. As Keith Harding said, the member should read the bill more closely.

I will deal with one potential problem in the bill. After the Local Government Committee's stage 1 report was published, I received several letters and e-mails about one feature of the bill. Mr Alex Lawson and Bruce the dog of Glenrothes are concerned about the areas of ground that the bill will cover. Mr Lawson and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals believe that the term "public open place" is too wide. It will include areas of wilderness such as hills and mountains, as well as rough ground and woodlands. I am now sympathetic to that view. I acknowledge that the committee—of which I am a member—and Keith Harding are satisfied that the phrase "public open place" is narrow, but I urge Keith Harding and the Executive to reconsider that and to see whether amendments can be drafted to meet the concerns of responsible dog owners such as Mr Lawson.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I do not want to hound members too much, but we started late and we are short of time.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 3:59 pm, 16th January 2003

I am delighted to congratulate my colleague Keith Harding on introducing the bill for debate today. Like him, I am a dog owner, and I am also interested to see whether another piece of potential Conservative legislation will pass through the Parliament.

I thank the minister for his support, because he and Peter Peacock in particular have been supportive, accommodating and helpful. It is the will of the Parliament—the Executive and back benchers combined—to produce a piece of legislation for Scotland that is practical and can be sensibly delivered.

Regardless of the legal wording, the bill's objective is responsible dog ownership and it recognises that some people fail in that. As the saying goes, a dog is not just for Christmas. The dog is not the nuisance; the owner's lack of control becomes the nuisance.

The bill is practical and radical and I suspect that it will be popular when it finally gets through the system. I believe that only a fool with little regard for public concern about the issue or for the health of young children could argue against its principles. Its ease of application by council staff and the minimisation of the use of the police and the court system are in its favour.

The problem of dog fouling is important to many people. I have had many approaches from constituents and community councils throughout Scotland on the matter. Last year, a deputation came to see me at a surgery in Laurencekirk and claimed that dog fouling was ruining the safe use of playing fields, parks, children's play areas, footpaths and green spaces in their community. Laurencekirk is not the only community to raise the issue. People in Stonehaven have said the same about Forestry Commission walkways—not so much among the trees where the dogs run loose, but the walkways themselves. People are getting a bit fed up. I investigated the complaints and, if anything, I found them to be understated.

What is the point in our arguing to get play parks reopened when no one will use them if they are covered in dog fouling mess? I, like Andy Kerr, have had to stand at the back door and wash off the children's wellies.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The member will not be able to manage that with only one arm.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I will not manage it at the moment, but I have a sick note.

Why should young children, who are vulnerable to infections that can be transmitted through dog excrement, have to lose out because of careless people who give dog owners a bad name? Dogs are vital to many people, as they provide company and can be working dogs. In the main they are looked after well; the bill is aimed at the few. On community sports pitches we might find litter, or glass, or even discarded hypodermic needles, but I guarantee that almost every one has dog excrement on it.

The bill would give councils the chance to take action. When I spoke to representatives of Aberdeenshire Council, they said that they were desperate for reasonable powers to address a nuisance that they feel frustrated in trying to deal with. The dog wardens will do their work and they will be sensitive in how they go about it. I am certain that the dog wardens in Aberdeenshire will not just try to collect tickets, because the scheme is not a revenue-creation scheme; it is a fiscally neutral scheme and it is about having the power to take action where it is absolutely necessary.

I congratulate Keith Harding, as Tricia Marwick did, on viewing the next stage of the bill with an open mind. We acknowledge that he is willing to accept meaningful changes and additions to the bill, so that it becomes a bill of the Parliament.

Councils would need to go further than considering only dog wardens. Village orderlies, who know who the troublemakers are in many cases, would be able to take action.

The education part of the bill is vital and I congratulate the Executive on its offering the money for the education programme. Without that, there would be only another set of penalties. We want to change the culture, which Keith Harding has set about tremendously. He has acknowledged all those who assisted him in the process and we are happy to thank all those who have been involved in getting the bill to this stage.

This practical bill will bring benefits to our communities. It will help to win back open spaces for all, but at the same time it acknowledges that responsible dog owners are still free to exercise their dogs, as many of them already carry bags and pooper scoopers with them.

Keith Harding said that the legislation was about education and enforcement. I think that the essence of it is education. The changes in evidence requirements, the saving of police and court time, the availability of the procurator's office as a long stop in extreme cases, and the sensitive exemptions in the bill demonstrate that it is well-crafted legislation. As I have already said, Keith's willingness to accept amendments remains an open offer to the Parliament.

I congratulate Keith Harding and commend the bill to members. I ask for the chamber's support, not only in agreeing to the bill's principles today, but in placing it on the statute book before Parliament is dissolved.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:05 pm, 16th January 2003

It is tempting to come out with a load of terrible puns, but I shall try to avoid it . Dog fouling is serious and it merits serious debate.

I congratulate Keith Harding on introducing the debate. I hope that he becomes one of the select band of people who have succeeded in getting a member's bill on the statute book. I wish him success as the bill passes through stages 2 and 3.

We had an important debate this morning, but we should not underestimate the importance of this debate because, as members have already implied, it affects everyone who walks the streets of this country. I should be careful about using the phrase "walks the streets", given the business being considered by the Local Government Committee. Anyone who has ever been a local councillor knows that the bill addresses an issue about which the public regularly raise concerns. When I was a councillor, my area frequently held community council meetings.

I was delighted to be a regional councillor for most of my time in local government—dog fouling was the responsibility of districts and I did not really have to deal with it. However, the issue has come up time and again. One of the problems was that the existing legislation was inadequate and did not improve the situation, which is why the bill is particularly welcome.

Members have already mentioned the problems with the existing legislation: because it made dog fouling a criminal offence, corroborative evidence was required and only the police could enforce it. Indeed, the offence was simply allowing a dog to foul, which itself made the provision more difficult to enforce. It is also important to bear it in mind that the offence was restricted to limited areas. For example, people could allow their dogs to foul on the roadway, but not on the pavement. That caused problems, because the matter became a question of defining whether a particular area was a legitimate place to allow a dog to foul.

Keith Harding's bill addresses many of those issues and would make the legislation easier to enforce. That is helped by the bill's seeking to shift the offence from being a criminal to a civil one, if we accept the fixed penalty aspect. That step will remove the need for two corroborating witnesses, which is one of the biggest problems in enforcing the existing legislation. Members who have doubts about that should bear it in mind that it is almost impossible to find those witnesses.

Most people will not be concerned by the introduction of fixed penalties. After all, people in Edinburgh have accepted the introduction of fixed penalties for litter offences under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Furthermore, the legislation will be easier to enforce because the offence will centre on a person's failure to clear up the mess rather than on a person's allowing a dog to foul.

We must also remember that the bill is written as enabling legislation. It will not tie the hands of local authorities; instead, it will give them a great deal of discretion about how to implement its provisions. It is quite important that decisions on the number of designated officers, who those officers will be and the extent to which the matter will be prosecuted should be left to the discretion of local authorities. However, as the Local Government Committee has pointed out, it would be helpful if local authorities were provided with guidance on best practice on some key issues such as where to exercise discretion.

That brings me to amendments to the bill. Some members will have received an e-mail today from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about companion dogs for elderly or disabled people or others who are unable to clear up mess. In fact, under Keith Harding's bill, failure to clear up a dog's mess will not be an offence if a person has a reasonable excuse—for example, if they have a disability. However, local authority officers should have the discretion to be sensible about these issues and to take account of individual circumstances in any one case. Tying people's hands by trying to define disability in any way would simply be nonsense and would make things very difficult.

I am pleased that Keith Harding has accepted the committee's advice that 72 hours is not sufficient time for the issue of a fixed penalty notice and agreed to change that to seven days to take account of things such as public holiday periods.

I am also pleased that the Executive has indicated a willingness to lodge an amendment that will make it an offence for a member of the public not to co-operate with a designated officer by giving their name and an address to which a fixed penalty notice can be issued. Those are important amendments that will make the bill even better.

It is important to recognise, as Keith Harding and the Executive have done, that education is part of the package. It is to be welcomed that the Executive has indicated that it will allocate £100,000 towards an education programme.

I support the general principles of the bill, the contents of which have been Liberal Democrat policy for many years. I hope that all Liberal Democrats will support the bill today and I congratulate Keith Harding once again on proposing it.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We move now to the open part of the debate. Time will be tight if I am to get everybody in. Speeches of four minutes, please.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:11 pm, 16th January 2003

I congratulate Keith Harding on the bill and thank him for introducing it. I also thank the ministers, Local Government Committee members and the staff that service the committee for their hard work.

There are those who sneer at the Parliament because we concern ourselves with what they regard as trivial legislation, such as the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill. However, as Iain Smith and Andy Kerr have said, it is a safe bet that those lofty-minded critics have never been councillors and hence have never had to face angry constituents demanding that they do something about the selfish behaviour of so-called dog lovers. That might not be the reason that brings constituents to our surgeries, but I assure members that, as those constituents leave, they will say, "And another thing, what are you going to do about that dog mess in the street?" Dog fouling is not simply a trivial irritant caused by selfish dog owners, a significant number of whom do not give a damn about their neighbours or anybody else. It is a serious health hazard, particularly where young children are concerned. Richard Simpson will say more about that and indeed, will be able to pronounce the words that I find completely unpronounceable.

Dog faeces contain, among other things, parasitic worm eggs. If those eggs find their way into the human hand, there is a risk of their being ingested. That can lead to tissue damage and, in some severe cases, permanent loss of sight. Therefore, dog faeces—particularly in public places—pose a serious risk to children who might be playing in the area.

It is clear that current legislation is inadequate to deal effectively with the problems of dog fouling and that enforcement is difficult. Enforcement lies with the police, who rightly have competing priorities. There is frustration that local authorities cannot tackle the problem unilaterally. It is also clear that best practice should involve a method of enforcement and the education of dog owners. As Iain Smith said, most important is the change of emphasis: the offence is no longer allowing a dog to foul in certain places, but not picking up afterwards. All witnesses supported that change.

When addressing exemptions, the committee was clear that dog ownership is beneficial to older people in encouraging exercise, for example, and to many others who have pets as companions. We did not wish to introduce a bill that would mean that people felt that they had to give up their dogs. We accepted that some people might find it difficult to clean up after a dog, but we were content with evidence that an officer's discretion should deal with that in the first instance. It was the evidence of witnesses that, if there were a justifiable reason, procurators fiscal would not pursue.

I turn now to education because I believe that that is the nub of the matter—education sooner rather than later. There was unanimous support in our evidence sessions for a public education campaign. There were strong arguments from the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland for an amendment to include a requirement on local authorities to engage staff to fulfil an educational role in addition to their enforcement role. COSLA gave us examples of Renfrewshire's joint protocol on litter and dog fouling—a project adopted by the police and the local authority environment department that is very successful.

I believe that we need to get the message over early in schools. Central park in New York was, for many years, absolutely infamous for the mess that dogs were leaving. Those of us who have seen "Marathon Man" will know that he ran round and round the park, which was a pretty dirty place to be. It was a serious problem. Dog owners are now accepting their responsibilities and picking up after their dogs. That change came about after a comprehensive education programme in schools, with lots of publicity and well-known public figures being shown walking their dogs and picking up afterwards. It was an active, lively campaign.

Let us help local authorities to keep our streets clean and free from a serious health hazard, and let us sort out our uncaring dog owners. I urge members to support the bill.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:15 pm, 16th January 2003

After today, no one will be able to say that this Parliament does not debate diverse issues. I congratulate Keith Harding on introducing the bill and on all the work that he and his assistants and researchers have done. I also thank him for coming along to the Local Government Committee to give coherent evidence and for allowing members to question him, sometimes quite ferociously, if I can use that word in this context.

Many members have picked up on the health issue, which is probably one of the most important. Young children are prey to the problem, but so are elderly people or those who may have an illness. Trish Godman outlined some of the illnesses that people can get from dog faeces. However, one of the problems of standing in dog faeces or getting it on one's hand is that the symptoms of a resulting infection might include headaches and aching limbs, and people often do not realise before it is too late just how serious those symptoms can be. I hope that the education that is proposed by the Executive and by Parliament will make people aware that touching dog faeces is very unhealthy.

I welcome the bill, but there are a couple of provisions in it on which I questioned Keith Harding and other witnesses. One was the enforcement issue, which other members have raised, particularly with regard to elderly people. I know that some people, including blind and partially sighted people, are exempt, but I worry about people who are elderly. Most elderly people do pick up after their dogs, but I hope that, if they cannot, enforcement officers will look on them kindly.

Another category of people that has not yet been mentioned is children under 16 years of age. I have some difficulty with the bill's provisions in that respect, as I mentioned in the committee. I hope that those children and their parents will not have a criminal record if they are persistent offenders. I have been told by councils and by other committee members that the enforcement officers will be lenient, questioning children and taking them to their parents. However, we must beware of the enforcement issue with regard to elderly people and children under 16, and particularly children under eight. That is something that we must keep a careful eye on.

I was also concerned about the costs. I am sorry to bring up again points that I raised in the committee, but COSLA and councillors also raised the issue. The proposed cost is £6,630 for 32 local authorities. I do not think that that will be enough, but I do not blame Keith Harding for that. I call on the Executive to provide more money for literature and education if councils want it. The Executive and the Parliament should look favourably on such requests. The proposed total works out at around £207 per local authority, and that is really not enough.

The education issue is probably the most important, as all members have said. As a dog owner, I always take a bag and a poop-scoop, but I know how awkward it can be if my dog embarrasses me and I happen not to have a poop-scoop or bag. The first thing to do is to look for a piece of litter, on a tree or lying on the street, to wipe it up, but there is an embarrassment factor involved in that. Getting over that comes from education. I welcome the £100,000 that the Executive has pledged for an education programme, and I welcome the bill, which I am sure will be enacted diligently. Once again, I congratulate Keith Harding on introducing it.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:19 pm, 16th January 2003

There is no doubt that the problem of dog fouling needs to be tackled, and tackled effectively. I am pleased that the Scottish Executive will be providing £100,000 for the education programme to help to deal with the problem.

As we have heard, changing the law to tackle the failure to clean up after deposits have been made is commendable. It is absolutely right to do so, rather than leave the law as it is, but I have some questions that I hope Keith Harding will address in summing up.

First, I am concerned that the bill may have too wide a scope. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 deals with dog fouling on footpaths, grass verges, pedestrian precincts, children's play areas—David Davidson has already mentioned what the law covers—designated sports and recreational grounds. The Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill seems to apply to any public place, including country roads. I live in a rural area. When I take my two cocker spaniels out for a walk, I often have to pass through cows' and horses' muck, which is splattered all over the place. I do not mind that, as that is what living in the country is all about. However, if someone's small dog performs and that is not cleaned up, under the bill they would become a criminal who is liable to a fine. I simply draw the comparison between what happens in the countryside and what is mentioned in the bill.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Does the member give any credibility to our local government officials, local government employees and the councillors who represent the community? What the member has described will not happen. The bill is designed around the urban environment and environments where people choose to walk with their kids. As with other public services, public servants will make the right decisions rather than ludicrous decisions such as those that the member mentions.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That is very trusting. I am glad to hear that the proposals will not apply in rural Scotland—the minister has guaranteed that.

Secondly, I am concerned about what seem to be rather authoritarian enforcement procedures in the bill. Section 1(4) states:

"In any proceedings for an offence under this section it shall be lawful to convict the accused on the evidence of one witness."

Surely that challenges a principle of Scots law. Unlike the law of England, corroborative evidence is required. I do not particularly like such anglicisation of Scots law.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In a moment.

In addition, I do not particularly like the rather casual way in which someone's guilt is to be decided. I know that ministers trust council officials implicitly, but is Keith Harding suggesting that a council official who simply has reason to believe that a person is guilty of an offence can issue a fixed penalty?

However, that is not the best example of Keith Harding's approach in the bill. I refer to COSLA's evidence that the bill might breach the European convention on human rights. Article 6.2 of the ECHR states that there should not be any penalty for pleading not guilty to any offence. Under the bill, any individual who requests a hearing after receiving a fixed-penalty notice forgoes a penalty of £40 and faces a penalty of £500 if they take the case to court. That cannot be right. However, I note that the committee's report says that Keith Harding has agreed to lodge amendments at stage 2 to tackle ECHR concerns and I hope that he does so.

I am terribly short of time, but I want to say that the bill is a useful exercise. It is necessary. It changes the basis on which an offence is created, but there are substantive points about evidence gathering, corroboration and enforcement that need to be tackled. I also take Sandra White's point about under-16s and do not particularly like what is in the bill in that respect. I heard what the minister said, but the bill makes terrible assumptions about what officials will or will not do. The Parliament must look to the letter of the law that is before it.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 4:23 pm, 16th January 2003

The bill is welcome and practical. It will ensure greater protection for our environment and greater public health protection. It is clearly not an anti-dog bill. It recognises that dogs as pets and working animals for people such as the blind play an important role in our society. The affectionate support that dogs give to their owners can sometimes be crucial in maintaining the mental health of owners, in times of serious loss, for example. The bill recognises the particular needs of elderly people.

As Keith Harding said, dogs produce many tonnes of excrement—perhaps 80 tonnes in Scotland—and it is obvious that that has significant environmental consequences.

I congratulate Keith Harding on tackling the issue. When we look back in 10 years' time, we will see that the proposals have been one of a number of proposals that have changed things in Scotland significantly. Therefore, anyone who sneers at the bill does so at their peril.

It is not only councillors with whom the matter is raised. I do roving street surgeries regularly in my constituency and apart from youth crime, this is the issue that comes up most. It affects our citizens markedly.

I say, in particular to Mike Rumbles, that the bill is correct in its wide definition. The bill is not about defining areas in which dogs can or cannot perform; it is about the responsibility of owners. A wide definition is therefore entirely appropriate.

I will concentrate on the medical consequences of a failure to manage dog excrement. Dog faeces are associated with a parcel of medical problems. In almost 30 years of practice, I was repeatedly faced with children who were diagnosed as having worms; a distressing and irritating condition that gives considerable anxiety to parents who do not know why their child is suffering from abdominal pain.

The consequences of that relatively mild condition are nothing compared to what can happen with larval migration. Toxocariasis can cause blindness, damage to the body organs, asthma and pneumonia. The incubation period is not a short one; it can often be quite long. The problem is therefore often not associated with dog excrement so the recording of this happening is, in my opinion, poor. Toxocariasis can cause blindness in some cases—the effects can be serious.

There are also serious consequences for two other groups of people. One group is those who are disabled and use manual wheelchairs. They face considerable risk associated with dog excrement. The other group is pregnant women. The foetus may suffer severe consequences from infection from salmonella; campylobacter, which is now far more widespread in our society; leptospirosis canicola; and E coli 0157 which, as members know, can be fatal.

The management of dog excrement is not trivial; it is an important issue of public health. The Local Government Committee has been very supportive of the principles of the bill—I joined it after it had considered the evidence—and stated clearly in its stage 1 report that the current legislation is inadequate. The provision of £100,000 for education is welcome and there is a proper and appropriate balance with enforcement. As the minister said, the balance struck in working with the Executive and the committee on the bill is an exemplar and a model for members' bills. I think that the bill has got it right.

I believe that fixed penalty notices should be extended. It is welcome that we are using such notices in relation to this matter. We should trust well-trained officials within the local authorities. Their training, which has not been mentioned, is important and should satisfy Mike Rumbles's point. I hope that that matter will be taken care of.

I welcome the bill and the Local Government Committee's report on it. I hope that there will be unanimous support for the principles of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 4:28 pm, 16th January 2003

Richard Simpson made a point that I was going to make myself, which is that in a number of years the legislation that is proposed today will be seen to be normal. I remember when going to and from school on the tram as a kid—which kind of dates me—seeing a notice that said "Penalty for spitting 40/-." Nobody spits on public transport now. The reason for the notice being there was that people had done that and spread tuberculosis and every other nasty that can be imagined all over public transport. A shift took place because of legislation for something that seemed, on the face of it, quite minor.

I recall having a summer job in the store, where the supervisor said, "Take that cheese in the muslin to the sink and scrape the muslin off." I took the enormous farmhouse cheese to a brown, tea-stained sink and with a rusty knife I scraped off all the muslin. I then divided it up into cheese that people bought. I presume that they survived. Legislation, perhaps of a higher order than this, took care of that. We now have standards that we did not have before.

On dog fouling, I suppose that it is quite difficult to get round this without putting one's foot in it, but many members have done that well so far. Trish Godman mentioned that as a councillor you receive a great many complaints about the matter. Before I was elected, I put out a circular to ask all the citizens in my would-be ward what their priorities were and dog excrement was high on their list of priorities. The problem re-emerged from time to time thereafter.

Trish Godman also mentioned that Renfrewshire Council has a protocol with the police on the matter. According to the Scottish Parliament information centre, that protocol is an imitation of an earlier measure that Angus Council tried.

I note that COSLA thinks that officers should always be entitled to withdraw from situations in which they feel that their personal safety might be compromised. When I was in Easterhouse, the dogs there were not dogs as members would understand them. They were usually a cross between an Alsatian and a timber wolf and anyone who went near them or their owners would have done so at enormous personal jeopardy. I am glad that there will be an offence of obstructing a local government officer.

The bill is about responsible ownership. At Christmas, I discovered that somebody had got a dog from the cat and dog home in Glasgow, where, traditionally, people went to get free dogs and rescue them. That home no longer gives out free dogs—people have to pay 50 quid so that they have some feeling of responsibility when they take over the ownership of a dog. The blend of enforcement, education and responsible ownership is essential.

Dog excrement is unsightly, smelly and damaging to health. I am confident that the bill will make it and I congratulate my young colleague Keith Harding on introducing it.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:31 pm, 16th January 2003

I always wonder why, when one steps in one of those leavings of dogs, one's instep manages to collect the maximum quantity of excrement to transport into one's house.

I would have liked comprehensive legislation that covers all fouling and littering of our streets. Colin Campbell said that people no longer spit in buses, but in buses, on the streets and in public buildings, people still indulge in the revolting and utterly unacceptable habit of taking chewing gum out of their mouths and dropping it on the ground. That issue must be addressed.

I congratulate Keith Harding warmly on introducing the bill, which is sensible and well crafted. I particularly commend the sections that give a measure of flexibility to the Executive in determining exceptions to the bill and the rate of fixed penalties.

In my remaining minute and a half, I will address penalties. Under Margaret Thatcher—I do not mean to get at my colleagues in the Conservative party—legislation on litter was introduced that was singularly ineffective. I believe that, in its first two years, there were only three prosecutions. The legislation allowed unlimited fines, but one of the cases involved a fine of £2,000, which was eventually deemed to be out of order. In one of the other cases, the fine was upheld and the other case was withdrawn. The problem with the legislation was that it was open ended, which meant that authorities were unwilling to prosecute or take people to court. The bill provides proper opportunities to administer fixed penalties.

On a note of caution, David Davidson rightly pointed out that the bill is not a revenue-raising measure and that it is neutral. I would go further than that—I would be happy if local authorities had to pay for the measure if it was effective in achieving its purpose of reducing the amount of dog excrement on our streets.

I would like an explanation for why on-the-spot fines are not in the bill. Could they be administered under the bill? I believe that, early in the life of the legislation, the fines must be at a level that people can be expected to pay. The fines can be racked up later, but they should be low to start with so that authorities are content to apply them.

Photo of Janis Hughes Janis Hughes Labour 4:34 pm, 16th January 2003

Like other members who have spoken, with the possible exception of Mike Rumbles, I welcome the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill and congratulate Keith Harding on achieving all-too-rare consensus in the chamber.

It is easy for people to say that the issue is trivial and that the Scottish Parliament should not spend time debating it. However, my postbag and those of my colleagues reflect the fact that many constituents find dog fouling to be a persistent and offensive nuisance. They will be pleased that the bill is being debated today. Anyone walking through some of the beautiful parks in my constituency—Cambuslang park, Kings park and Overton park—will be only too well aware of the nuisance that is caused by irresponsible dog owners.

As we have heard from Richard Simpson, the matter goes deeper than that. The potential health risks of fouling—including toxocariasis, which is a particularly nasty disease that is especially threatening to children—mean that dog owners have a responsibility to clear up after their dogs. I am, therefore, pleased that we are taking the first steps towards legislation that will more easily hold owners responsible than the current legislation can.

I welcome the shift in emphasis from allowing dogs to foul in certain places to making it an offence for people not to clear up after their dogs. That will make it much easier to identify offenders. I agree with the Local Government Committee's view that exemptions to the bill should be kept to a minimum, because it is important that the bill is clear to the public, to enforcement officers and to local authorities. As other members have said, the committee recommendation that guidance should be developed to assist the police and local authority officers in dealing with alleged offences by persons under the age of 16 seems to be eminently sensible. However, it is important that the guidance should be detailed and clear.

Education has been mentioned: it is important that we provide continued education for dog owners in order to help to alleviate the problem. That has been done in the past, but not effectively and it has obviously not worked in isolation. I am pleased that the Executive is committing £100,000 to an advertising campaign that will work alongside the proposed new legislation to reinforce the provisions. Throughout stage 1, the Executive has recognised the resource implications for local authorities, and I am pleased that COSLA supports the general principles of the bill. I am sure that its concerns can be addressed at stage 2.

I am happy to support the general principles of the bill and I am pleased that we have, by and large, achieved consensus on the subject. Whether we like it or not, the subject is of great importance to many of our constituents. I hope that Parliament endorses the general principles of the bill.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:37 pm, 16th January 2003

I congratulate Keith Harding on the bill. It is a model member's bill and a lot of very good work has gone into it.

In 26 years as a councillor, I received from all sections of the community more complaints about dog fouling than about any other issue. The first time that I was invited to Holyrood palace by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for one of his shindigs, I thought, "Good. I am going to discover what the top people really talk about." However, as I entered the room a lady bore down on me—she was a constituent from my ward—and she said, "What are you going to do about dog fouling?" The matter affects everyone.

Dog fouling is a problem for councillors because the law is quite wrong. It is, therefore, essential that the Parliament change the law. Hitherto, the law has been based on a complete fallacy because it says that it is an offence for dogs to foul the pavement, the grass, or whatever. That is flying in the face of nature. We might as well close the public lavatories and make it an offence for someone to be caught short. The bill, correctly, changes that situation. The offence will not be the dog's doing what nature tells it to do; the offence will be the owner's failure to clear it up. That is at the heart of the bill and it is absolutely correct.

Alternatives do not work. When I was a councillor, we tried several. The most imaginative was when some council officials in a park dug a thing like a long-jump pit, filled it with ash and provided a nice old-fashioned street lamp. They put a notice beside it that said, "Canine convenience." None of the dogs used it, though; dogs cannot read long words. That illustrates the fact that alternatives do not work and that we must have a bill such as the one that we are debating.

The introduction of fixed-penalty notices will be effective. They already work with regard to parking restrictions and this is a similar issue. Such notices will deal with the problem.

The bill will deal with the matter, because hitherto, procurators fiscal and the police have given low priority to dog fouling. The issue will now get better attention and be properly dealt with under the provisions of the bill.

We have to train the wardens and police who will have to deal with the offence. There are citizens who persecute dog owners because they have a bee in their bonnet about the issue—some of their requests could be ignored. As the minister said, we will have to rely in some measure on local government officials acting with a certain degree of common sense.

Councils must also provide enough bins to allow people a reasonable chance to put their dog's excrement in a bin. Some areas have a good provision of bins; St Andrews, which was run by Liberal Democrats when it was a district council, has an extensive row of bins along the beach. I am sure that some councils have provided enough bins, but others have not.

Although the principle behind the bill is absolutely correct, one or two minor points might need adjustment. The bill is to be commended and it is an example of how, unlike some of the publicity that is written to the detriment of the Scottish Parliament, we can do good for people in a way that affects their lives.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:41 pm, 16th January 2003

It is, of course, tempting to regard the matter fairly light-heartedly; I must confess that I exhibited some amusement while I listened to Andy Kerr and Tricia Marwick relate their experiences of removing excrement from their boots. Indeed, given Mr Kerr's previous occupation, I thought that he was manifestly suited to that particular task.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

The point that I was making was that I never cleaned my boots—it was left to my husband to do that.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

A man who is, I am sure, long suffering in many ways. [ Laughter. ]

There are some very important aspects to the bill and Keith Harding is to be congratulated on his courage in introducing it. He left himself open to being vilified for dealing with a matter that many people thought trivial. The issue is, however, very important. The evidence that Richard Simpson described in his speech highlighted the importance of the bill, because dog excrement can be a very real health hazard. Dog fouling detracts greatly from the amenity that many of us are entitled to as we walk in our streets, use our recreation grounds and so forth, so it is important that the matter be dealt with.

It is also important to highlight the way in which the law is being changed. Donald Gorrie generously did so in his speech. The offence under the bill is not of allowing a dog to mess; rather, the offence will be not to clear up the mess. The change highlights the difference between the existing position under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and the provisions that are contained in Mr Harding's bill.

In the time available, I would like to respond to some of the other speeches. Sandra White rightly mentioned children; I, too, am a little worried about the legal competence of applying a fixed penalty to someone under the age of 16. In criminal matters, High Court rulings mean that it is not possible to impose fines on those who do not have the means to pay and someone under 16 might be in that category. I am sure, however, that Mr Harding will research the matter and deal with it at stage 2.

Robin Harper dealt with the principle of on-the-spot fines. I agree that such fines offer many attractions, especially if they are extended to litter, but they would not work in certain areas of Glasgow. Indeed, on-the-spot fines would act as a provocation to those who offend. We have to give further consideration to that issue.

In typically ungenerous fashion, Mike Rumbles was the only member this afternoon who did not congratulate Keith Harding. He advanced a somewhat humorous image—I almost thought he was going to use the allegory of someone allowing their cow to dump in Princes Street—but the situation to which he referred is in hand. The measures would not be expected to work in the countryside because dog fouling is not a particular nuisance in the context that Mr Rumbles described. In some rural areas, however, dog fouling would be a nuisance; for example, if dogs were allowed to dump on recreation grounds.

Mike Rumbles misdirected himself on the issue of corroboration. There are many areas in Scots law—from the most serious, such as the crime of rape, to the less serious, such as speeding or going through a red light—in relation to which corroboration is not required.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

It is, actually. The safeguard in such instances is that the matter can go to court if it is disputed. At that stage, the question of corroboration will come into play. Mr Harding will have to examine that at stage 2. However, the fact is that no corroboration would be required in order to issue fixed penalty notices.

This is a well thought-out bill. Keith Harding is to be congratulated and I am sure that all members and the Executive will wish the bill every success when it advances through its final two stages.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 4:40 pm, 16th January 2003

What contrasts this chamber can provide. This morning, we talked about international affairs, but this afternoon we are discussing issues to do with Scotland's pavements. The way in which the atmosphere in the chamber can change is astonishing.

I welcome Keith Harding's proposal, which I think is great and I offer him my sincere congratulations. Having read the Local Government Committee's report, it is obvious that a thorough job was done and that some serious issues were considered.

Keech is an old Scots word for excrement and I hope, for Keith's sake, that he does not become known as Mr Keech Harding because of his association with the bill. In many ways, however, it would be a tribute to him if he did, because it would show that he had left behind something of note.

It is obvious that Keith Harding has been prepared to take a flexible and pragmatic approach to the bill and the opportunity for its being amended at stage 2.

I was a councillor for 13 years and agree with other members that dog fouling is one of the main topics in councillors' surgeries. I was the council's environmental health convener for four years and during that time there was a lot of investment in ways in which to deal with the dog-fouling problem. Dog wardens were employed and we had exercise control areas, bins for dog excrement, free pooper scoopers and an education programme. However, despite the amount of effort that was made, not a lot changed because, to be frank, the law did not allow sufficient powers of enforcement. I am the first to accept that education must go hand in hand with enforcement and I offer my congratulations to Andy Kerr and the Executive for making available the extra investment of £100,000. Because of past experience, it is my view that education alone will not make sufficient difference. All the carrots in the world will make no difference unless we are also able to use a big stick. Keith Harding's bill will allow us to go in that direction.

We need to have tougher penalties and we need to bring about a culture change. We must take pride in our country and in our communities. If that happens, irresponsible dog owners might begin to respond. Keith Harding has given us an opportunity to take an important step and he deserves plaudits for that.

Earlier, Keith Harding said that the legislation would apply in all areas to which the public has access. That worries me because the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will give the public the right to go into areas all over Scotland. As Tricia Marwick asked earlier, how will we differentiate between agricultural and rough areas? Further consideration needs to be given to that issue because the legislation might otherwise be undermined. For example, if action is taken against a person who allows a dog to defecate in a public park, that person might be able to argue reasonably that no action was taken against them when they previously allowed their dog to defecate in rough areas. I do not know what the answer to that problem is, but I think that the matter needs further examination.

As far as fixed penalties are concerned, it is a good idea to up the ante incrementally and to make it more difficult for offenders if they refuse to pay. Is 10 per cent enough? That is another question that needs to be examined; if the percentage uplift was greater it might increase the number of fines that were paid up front, and it might reduce bureaucracy further down the line. Perhaps that issue can be examined.

The issue that causes me greatest concern is young offenders—those who are under the age of 16. They have no income and no means to pay, as Bill Aitken properly pointed out. It might be that in practice, people who are under 16 will not be fined. However, in theory they could be fined and while that theoretical possibility exists, the potential exists for difficult situations to arise for people who are under 16.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals submitted further evidence to the Parliament today, which states:

"If a minor is in charge of a dog when an offence is committed, the person who gave the minor responsibility for the dog should be held responsible."

That suggests that the parents of children should be held responsible. Perhaps the legislation could address that, instead of fining young offenders.

There are other points that I would like to make, but I recognise the tightness of time. I conclude by congratulating Keith Harding sincerely.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 4:51 pm, 16th January 2003

At the outset, I thank members for their contributions to the debate and for the many positive comments that were made. It has been a serious and considered debate, which is what I wanted. I have been subjected to some ridicule over the past couple of years because of the bill, but dog fouling is an issue that I wanted to address, and I have used the Parliament to do so.

I will try to deal with the various issues that members have raised. Tricia Marwick mentioned Bruce, the dog from Glenrothes, and after a pause for thought, I will reply to him as well. The issue was the widening of exemptions to include rough ground, which was also mentioned by Bruce Crawford and Mike Rumbles. The bill does not require enforcement, but it empowers authorities to enforce if they consider that there is a problem. Tricia Marwick agreed at the Local Government Committee that we need the bill to apply to a wide range of areas to ensure that it is not open to challenge. If we specify types of areas to which the bill applies, we may run into all sorts of problems. We therefore agreed that it would apply to all public land, excluding agricultural land. It will apply to places such as bridle paths.

I say to Mike Rumbles that I do not expect designated officers to hide behind trees to catch him on remote country roads, but I am disappointed to learn that he is not a responsible owner who picks up excrement at the time.

Iain Smith emphasised the importance of the guidance notes. I agree totally with him; it is important that proper guidance is given to councils and authorised officers.

Trish Godman, Richard Simpson, Sandra White and Janis Hughes made important points about health issues and the risks of dog fouling. Those cannot be over-emphasised. Sandra White mentioned the elderly, in respect of whom I would expect designated officers to be considerate and understanding. She also mentioned children under 16, as did Bill Aitken and Bruce Crawford. The bill makes no specific provision with regard to under-16s. As other members have said, authorised officers should act sensibly and use their discretion. Existing criminal law restrictions in relation to children apply to the offences in the bill, as they do to all other criminal offences.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Will Keith Harding and the Executive consider whether, in situations in which the person who is with the dog is under 16, the penalty could be applied to the parent of the person or to the owner of the dog?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

We will look at that matter again—it has been the subject of much discussion. We thought that we had found the right answer, but we will revisit the issue.

Sandra White mentioned cost. The Presiding Officer and the Executive have accepted that the bill is competent, so the figures that are quoted in the financial memorandum are acceptable.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Will you please instruct members who have not had the opportunity to hear the rest of the debate to calm down so that those of us who have had that opportunity can hear its conclusion.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

In her contribution, Tricia Marwick mentioned that the bill would give power to local authority officers. It will not do that—it will give power to authorities to authorise their officers.

Mike Rumbles mentioned the penalty, to which he said the COSLA submission referred. The COSLA submission did not refer to that. Under the bill, if a person denies their guilt, they can request a hearing before a court. It is simply not true to say that there is a penalty for denying that one has committed an offence.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

No. We have heard enough on that issue.

The other issue that Mike Rumbles mentioned was the ECHR. I recommend that he read paragraphs 62 to 66 on page 9 of the policy memorandum, which cover that issue in great detail.

Robin Harper mentioned on-the-spot fines. The bill provides for on-the-spot fines in section 5 on fixed penalties, which are an alternative to fines.

I will finish early if I am not careful. Although I am delighted that the debate has been serious, I will end on a lighter note. My daughter is married to a United States Navy officer. When my wife and I went to their wedding, I asked one of his academy colleagues what my future son-in-law did on the ship. He told me that he had, as the executive officer, a very important job. When I asked what that meant, he told me that my son-in-law was in charge of fire and safety drills and the crappers. When I asked whether the crappers were what I thought they were, he told me that they were.

In my speech after the wedding, I said that my wife and I were delighted that our son-in-law was a crapper controller. My daughter, who is a sad soul, follows the Parliament on the web in America, where she saw that I planned to introduce the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill and informed my son-in-law, James. I then received an e-mail that asked, "Why must you continually prove to your daughter that you are better than me? I might be the crapper controller of a missile destroyer, but why do you want to become the crapper controller of Scotland?"

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I thank Mr McAveety very much. On that note, and staying in an American vein, using the words of Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry", "make my day"—please support the bill.