Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:35 pm on 13th March 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 3:35 pm, 13th March 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3866, in the name of Keith Harding, that the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill be passed. I call Keith Harding to speak to and move the motion. [ Laughter. ]

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 3:44 pm, 13th March 2003

In my maiden speech, I welcomed a new addition to the Conservatives, in the form of a granddaughter. I hope that members will join me in welcoming a further addition to the Conservatives, in the form of Jamie McGrigor's and his wife Emma's daughter, who was born a few hours ago.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I am sure that all members add their congratulations. Is that a Conservative gain from labour?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I do not think that we do that sort of thing. I trust that members will forgive me if I seek to avoid any more unfortunate references to motions and movements. There has been quite enough bad punning from colleagues in earlier debates on the bill.

On a serious note, I emphasise the fact that it is a serious bill about a serious subject. Dog faeces is no laughing matter; it is a perennial problem that is displeasing to see, disgusting to smell and most unfortunate of all to discover under foot. It is not only a great nuisance; it can be dangerous in health terms, especially to our children, to users of manual wheelchairs, to the elderly and to pregnant women. I thank Richard Simpson for outlining in detail at stage 1 the very serious health problems that dog fouling can cause.

It is Oscars time, so I wish to express my utmost gratitude to a number of people. I thank Trish Godman for ably overseeing the Local Government Committee's considerations at stages 1 and 2; the committee clerks, who have been as industrious as ever; all the witnesses and consultees, without whose input the bill could not have happened; the minister, for taking a refreshingly constructive approach; and Executive officials, whose expertise was useful. I must also mention the non-Executive bills unit—David Cullum, Alison Campbell and Ruaraidh Macniven—whose support and advice throughout the passage of the bill has been unstinting and invaluable. I also thank my researcher, Alison Miller, whose enthusiasm and diligence made a huge contribution to the bill.

Co-operation has been a byword for the bill, and I am thankful to all those who have been involved with it for working in that spirit. I hope that the development of my bill might even be a model for future cross-party and joint Parliament and Executive working, and for the way in which we develop proposals for members' bills. For the record, I note the assistance of the minister, Peter Peacock, who was supportive throughout the process and whose informal focus group took a careful look at the issues. I do not want to appear gushing, but I believe that my bill is an exemplar of the way in which members can, with the assistance of others, introduce sensible and workable legislation. The input of all the individuals and organisations that I have name-checked has helped to produce a practical and well-crafted bill. I would say that, of course, but there are many others who are possessed of discernment and objectivity who agree.

So—what will my bill do? In essence, it will provide local authorities and police constables with an alternative means of enforcement and will change the law so that the offence will no longer be the act of nature but the owner's failure to clean it up. It is essential that education work in tandem with implementation of the new law, and the minister's announcement of £100,000 of funding for that purpose is most welcome.

The sensible approach to the problem of dog fouling must be one of cultural change by challenging attitudes and changing behaviour. Dog owners should pick up wherever their dogs foul; that is both the context of my bill and its core. When that message gets through, we will finally be able to say that we have dealt with a problem that has vexed councillors and council officers for many years. The timeline of my bill has not been quite as long as that, although to some it might seem to have been so. I first lodged the proposal in June 2000; I lodged a fresh proposal in January 2001 and carried out extensive consultation between March and June 2001.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I give way to my former jousting opponent.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I know that, as part of that consultation, Keith Harding visited the Community Dog Management Centre at Alexandria and is aware of the very valuable work that is undertaken there in helping dog owners to learn about their responsibilities. Based on that knowledge, does he agree that education of, and raising of awareness among, dog owners will help to promote responsible behaviour, and that preventive models of that nature should be encouraged throughout Scotland?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I agree totally with Jackie Baillie. I visited that centre during the consultation period and I was really impressed with the service that it provides. It should be congratulated and it is a benchmark for similar organisations to follow. I also congratulate the centre on the fact that it recently achieved charitable status.

The fact that dog fouling is a considerable problem—a scourge, even—in our communities was stated at stage 1 by the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland. We also heard evidence from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which estimated that local authorities spend £500,000 a year dealing with the problem. However, for all its evident unpleasantness and its obvious social and economic costs, one finds excrement everywhere: on our pavements; in our public parks, playing fields and playgrounds; next to our schools; and outside our homes. Excuse my language, Presiding Officer, but it is time to cut the keech.

I recall from stage 1 that Mike Rumbles expressed, albeit a little mischievously, his worry that his dog walks in the country might be interrupted by zealous officials who would be hot on the trail of dog-fouling culprits. He is, if he will forgive me the pun, barking up the wrong tree. The scenario that Mike Rumbles posed rather reminded me of the film "Whistle Down the Wind", in which Alan Bates played an escaped convict who was forced to hide out in a barn from his pursuers. It is an amusing image, but if Mr Rumbles seriously thinks that that is what my bill will do, I suggest with all respect that he is whistling into the wind.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

A problem will arise—which I have experienced when I have had dogs—because of not enough poop scoops being on sale. I am serious about that point. I went to three shops in which I thought I would find poop scoops, but I could not get one. I wonder whether local authorities and retail outlets could be persuaded to sell poop scoops because, when the bill is enacted, an awful lot of poop scoops will be required.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Many councils provide poop scoops free of charge. My council in Stirling—perhaps I should declare an interest—certainly does so. However, I believe that we can utilise plastic carrier bags, which is what I do. I know that many others do, too. I agree that there might be a larger market for poop scoops, so perhaps enterprising pet shops will start to stock them.

Such levity takes us to the heart of the matter because the bill is not about where dog owners can or cannot allow their dogs to excrete; it is about dog owners taking responsibility and cleaning up after the act. We want to win back our public spaces for everyone: residents, workers, shoppers, walkers, joggers, dog owners themselves, footballers, cyclists, sunbathers—why, even Liberal Democrats.

It is often children who are most affected by the blight of dog fouling. Pupils from Edinburgh's Sciennes Primary School appeared on the "Scotland Today" programme a few years ago and talked about their experience of the Meadows in Edinburgh. They said:

"We went down to our play area and found 127 piles of poo. It has gone on long enough. It makes us angry. People let their dogs foul and do not clean up. Something has to be done."

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Keith Harding referred to piles of dog poo. Dogs suffer from digestive problems, just as humans do. How does Mr Harding suggest that those who will be responsible for enforcing action should deal with circumstances where, shall we say, the piles are not very solid? [ Interruption. ] Does Mr Harding envisage a sensible approach by those who will be responsible for enforcing action, in terms of the bill, in circumstances where dogs are not all that well and the owners might have difficulty in being sensible?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Perhaps Mr Adam should ask the question of his colleague Stewart Stevenson, who proved yesterday that he was the expert on slurry. However, I suggest that Mr Adam should read the bill, which has an exemption for dogs that have diarrhoea.

I am a doggy person and I make no bones about that. My best friend is a boxer called Tika.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

What does Mr Harding's wife think of that?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

She welcomes it.

When Tika hears the rustle of a carrier bag, she does not think that it means food; she knows that it is time for a walk.

I am a member of the cross-party animal welfare group and I was once the owner of a pet shop. The bill is not an anti-dog bill and, when enacted, it will not impinge on the majority of dog owners, who are responsible and already clean up after the inevitable. Ultimately, it is my bill's aim to raise awareness of the issues that exist around dog fouling and to encourage responsible dog ownership.

To that end, I reassure the Kennel Club that its members will not be "hounded"—please note that the pun is the Kennel Club's, not mine—because of my bill. The bill addresses the very mess that can generate anti-dog feeling among some people. It is not about penalising the great number of responsible owners who go about their business—and, indeed, allow their dogs to do their business—suitably armed with a poop scoop.

Some in the press—I see that there are none here now—might consider dog fouling not to be a serious issue and my bill to be a waste of time. I offer them no apology, for I believe strongly that we as a society have an obligation to deal with that unpleasant, malodorous and potentially hazardous problem. I know from the unanimous support in the stage 1 debate that other members feel the same way. Certainly, those of us who were councillors for more years than we might care to remember know well what the public say about it—I did say "it", Presiding Officer. In fact, a survey of public attitudes to the environment that the Executive published last November showed that 79 per cent of us believe that dog fouling is a big problem and 73 per cent of us believe that financial penalties would be a good means by which to reduce it. That is something for the sceptics to ponder.

When people complain about dog fouling, as they frequently do, they do so to their local authority. There exists an understandable expectation that councils can deal with it; however, as the law stands, they cannot. Only the police can take action and they, of course, have other things to do. That situation is unsatisfactory and frustrating, but my bill will bring powers of action back to the local authorities and enable them to address better the concerns of the communities that they serve.

That is not to say that I believe that our role is to interfere in an issue that is largely for local authorities to deal with: I do not. However, it is our duty to ensure that powers exist for authorities to use and that those powers are used in the public's best interest. If there is a local demand to address dog fouling in a particular area, my bill gives councils the means to do so quickly, effectively and cost-efficiently.

At the end of my stage 1 speech, I borrowed some of Clint Eastwood's words from "Dirty Harry". At this final stage, I find myself unable to resist quoting a line from Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver": I suggest that my bill will take us a considerable way towards being able to

"wash all this scum off the streets".

Also at stage 1, Bruce Crawford said that I was in danger of being known as Mr Keech Harding. I even received a jocular suggestion from my American son-in-law that I adopt the title "crapper controller of Scotland". I suppose that I should be grateful that nobody has called me the "Poo Meanie", although I note that somebody has rather unkindly described me as the "scourge of the turd". It is a dirty job, as they say, but if my bill can make a difference to the everyday lives of people in Scotland—I believe that it can—I am willing to take the flak.

With great pleasure, I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Dog Fouling (Scotland) bill be passed.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Further to Sir David Steel's earlier announcement, to our surprise, 12 members have asked to speak in the debate, which means that decision time will be a little later than Sir David indicated.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 3:58 pm, 13th March 2003

I am struck by the contrast between the scale of the international events that we discussed this morning and the subject that we are moving to in the afternoon. I do not wish in any way to overstate the bill's importance, but equally I do not want to understate it. The bill is very important. We are dealing with a practical, day-by-day concern for many individuals and families the length and breadth of Scotland. The bill should not be diminished because of the subject matter with which it deals.

I congratulate Keith Harding on having got the bill to stage 3 today. That is testimony to his hard work over many months—in fact, years—and his willingness to co-operate and try to encompass the Executive's policy objectives in the bill.

I also congratulate the bill team at the non-Executive bills unit that has worked with Keith Harding. I said at stage 2 that, of all the bills with which I have dealt, the bill is the most crisply written—its good language is easy to read. It is an example of how bills ought to be drafted.

The bill is also a good example of what can be achieved when parties work together on issues on which there is no political difference, but on which there is practical concern in communities throughout Scotland.

Keith Harding has already paid tribute to many who have supported him. I take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Local Government Committee for its consideration of the bill. I also thank the informal focus group that the Executive established with local government officials, which Keith Harding mentioned and whose contribution greatly assisted us in drafting the bill, from the Executive point of view.

I am sure that we can all recall examples of problems caused by dog fouling, either that we have experienced personally or that have been brought to our attention by constituents. I think that I mentioned during the stage 2 consideration of the bill that in my earlier days I became involved in my community and was the editor of the local community magazine. My first editorial covered the subject of dog fouling. I was then the father of two very young sons who had—if I can put it this way—practical experience of the problem. It has taken more than 25 years to get to this point. On a personal level, I am delighted to see the progress that has been made.

I recall that the day after a journalist criticised the bill and the Parliament for dealing with it, the Executive solicitor working on the bill—who has a young family—testified how important the bill would be in helping her and her family with the problems in her street.

As Kenny Gibson said—and as many former councillors in the chamber will know—dog fouling is one of the issues that has been most frequently raised with councillors over many years. Keith Harding's bill will go a long way to helping to provide practical ways of dealing with the problem.

It was clear that the existing legislation was not proving to be particularly effective in tackling the problem of dog fouling. In conducting our own review of the existing policies, the Executive's conclusions were broadly in line with those covered by Keith Harding's proposed bill. Consequently, as I have said, we worked our way through the bill's proposals and agreed the principles that should be contained in the bill prior to its introduction.

I will not repeat the details of the bill; Keith Harding has done that and they are well known to the Parliament. However, although the legislation is important, it is not all that is required. The education of dog owners is also required. We must seek to encourage that education.

As I indicated to the Local Government Committee in November when the issue of education was raised, we will undertake a national publicity campaign to coincide with the implementation of the bill.

The purpose of the campaign will be twofold: to inform the public of the new legislation, which is important in itself because of the obligations that will exist under it; and to emphasise the importance of responsible dog ownership in relation to dog fouling.

I will write to the Local Government Committee in due course to set out the details that they requested of that campaign. We will also work with local authorities in the course of the campaign; they will have a big opportunity to make a contribution to it.

The Executive has supported the principles of the bill from the outset and it has worked with Keith Harding to ensure that more effective provisions were introduced in the course of its passage. I am delighted that Keith Harding has co-operated so clearly in that process.

Tackling dog fouling is part of our much wider strategy to improve the quality of life of people throughout Scotland. We believe that the combination of better legislation, which the bill represents, and our publicity campaign will make a real difference to the people of Scotland.

I will conclude on a personal note. I have known Keith Harding for many years. He cut his political teeth on Jack McConnell—perhaps it was the other way round; I am not entirely sure—when they were on Stirling Council. I first got to know Keith through his involvement with Stirling Council, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other organisations.

Keith Harding and I completely disagree about how society ought to be organised and how Government policies generally ought to work. However, I have always found him to be a straightforward person to work with. He is a very decent person. He tells me what he thinks forthrightly and I have always enjoyed the relationship that I have had with him on that basis.

I say to him genuinely that he can be very proud that he—I stress he—has got the bill through Scotland's first Parliament. He is the only Tory who will have piloted a bill through this Parliament, albeit with all-party support. I genuinely and very warmly congratulate Keith Harding on his achievement. I urge all members to join the Executive in supporting his bill.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I must finish the debate by 16.35; I will therefore keep members to a tight time limit from now on.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:04 pm, 13th March 2003

I repeat my congratulations to Keith Harding on his tenacity, not only in seeing his member's bill through to this stage, but in convincing the Executive to support it throughout.

I also congratulate Trish Godman and the Local Government Committee clerks on their unstinting work on the bill.

Dog fouling is not only about the mess on streets and parks; it is also about our quality of life. There are approximately half a million dogs in Scotland and they produce 80 tonnes of excrement a day. Dog fouling is not only unsightly, but a health hazard—I am sure that we were all grateful to Richard Simpson at stage 1 for outlining exactly what the hazards are. I am unable to repeat some of the words that he used, because they were medical words. The problem is stressful for those who have to live with it, and it costs councils money to clean the dog mess up. The existing legislation is simply inadequate to tackle dog fouling.

Andy Kerr and I had an exchange at stage 1 about who cleans the boots or the wellies. I had come to the conclusion that that was the man's role. Since then, I have been inundated with e-mails from women saying that I am absolutely right: it is something that the men do. Instead of going out and grabbing animals and bringing them back for food, these days the men of our households are cleaning dog poo off wellies.

It is a serious matter. Many trips to parks or play parks have been ruined by dog mess getting on children's feet. The key to the proposed legislation lies in redefining the offence, from one of allowing a dog to foul to failing to clear up after the dog has fouled, while giving powers to local authorities to appoint officers. The new approach could also be applied to other legislation that needs to be introduced in future, including legislation to tackle littering.

I am sure that Keith Harding would agree that, had the Executive not supported the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill, we would not be holding today's stage 3 debate. As we come to the end of our four-year session, members of all parties should reflect on the fact that no members' bill has succeeded in becoming an act without the overt support of the Executive throughout its scrutiny, perhaps with the exception of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill. That is a matter of serious concern, and we need to consider that.

I congratulate Keith Harding again. The Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill is an important piece of proposed legislation. The Parliament is a legislature, and it is right that we put the legislative framework in place to allow local authorities to tackle the problem.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:07 pm, 13th March 2003

Not a great deal more requires to be said on this matter. It has been well handled from the bill's inception. It will be a worthwhile piece of legislation, carefully conceived by Keith Harding and well handled by the Local Government Committee, with constructive input from the Executive and equally constructive input from the other parties, from stage 1 to today.

It is easy to make witty, humorous remarks on this issue, and we have heard many throughout our discussions on the bill, not least the Presiding Officer's introduction earlier today. This is a fairly serious issue, however, and Richard Simpson underlined the very real hazards associated with dog waste. Aside from that, we recognise the unpleasantness of the problem.

One of the great advantages of the bill is that, although it will be seldom used, it will increase awareness among the dog-owning public. It is imperative that dog owners act responsibly. The vast majority of them happily do so but, sadly, an irresponsible minority do not. The fact that the bill will shortly be on the statute book will have a positive effect in encouraging those who do not maintain the standards that we expect of them.

The new legislation will be seldom enforced, and enforced with sensitivity. At stage 2 I raised the point that there would be a degree of difficulty with regard to legal proceedings arising from the bill, not least with regard to the rule of best evidence. If a degree of common sense is applied, however, such difficulties should simply not arise.

I commend the bill to the Parliament, and add my thanks to all those involved with the bill to those of Keith Harding. In particular, I praise Keith for having the imagination, and indeed the courage—on a matter that could have been treated as a little bit risible, although the bill in fact has serious content—to introduce the bill and to see it through from start to finish.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:10 pm, 13th March 2003

One of my more observant colleagues noted that when we last debated the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill we again debated the issue of Iraq on the same day. That is a rather unfortunate coincidence.

The media may think that this is a trivial matter, but it is not a matter of no great importance to the public. It is important that the Parliament should deal with minor as well as major issues when they affect the public.

Anyone who has been a local councillor will know how concerned the public are about this problem. Dog fouling was raised at every community council meeting that I attended in my 17 years as a councillor. I do not believe that any person who has gone out of doors anywhere in Scotland has not literally walked into this problem at some point.

Existing legislation has proved completely inadequate for dealing with the problem. For many years, it has been the policy of the Liberal Democrats to replace that legislation with provision for spot fines for offences such as dog fouling. I am glad that Keith Harding picked up the issue and has pursued it with tenacity through the Parliament. During this session he has worked hard to progress the bill. He was responsible for conducting a consultation on the bill and for introducing it.

It is important to bear it in mind that this is not an anti-dog bill. It is not an anti-dog-owner bill, but a pro-responsible-dog-owner bill. The bill is about promoting responsible dog ownership. It is not just about having people pick up their dog's mess, but about ensuring that dog owners are better educated about their responsibilities—as Jackie Baillie and Peter Peacock mentioned.

I fully support the bill and the motion to pass it. Thanks to the wisdom of some of his party colleagues in Mid Scotland and Fife, Keith Harding may not be with us in the next session, but at least he will be able to take away something positive that he has done for the benefit of the people of Scotland. I am glad that he will join me in the select band of MSPs who have succeeded in getting a member's bill through the Parliament.

I thank all members who have been involved in the scrutiny of the bill. In particular, I thank Keith Harding for getting this small, but important piece of legislation on to the statute book.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:12 pm, 13th March 2003

I, too, congratulate Keith Harding on getting the bill through the Parliament. Because this is the last piece of local government legislation that the Parliament will consider in this session, I take the opportunity to thank all members of the committee, past and present, the committee clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre, the official report and the Parliament's security staff for all the support that they have given to the committee and to me over the past four years.

As other members have said, dog fouling is not simply an irritant caused by selfish dog owners, but can be a serious health hazard, especially for young children. Many speakers have pointed out how often this issue is raised at councillors' surgeries. Many of our roads and parks are covered in dog dirt. The public want those areas and children's areas to be free of such mess.

Existing legislation is clearly not working, as signs informing the public of penalties are ignored. However, signs can be confusing. I am reminded of an acquaintance who lives in New York and has a dog. In New York, people have to clean up after their dogs, so my acquaintance goes out every day with his little bag and does so. When his brother Mark came to visit, he said that he would look after the dog for a week and clean up after it. At the end of the week, when the brothers were out together for a walk in Central park, Mark picked up the dog's mess and put it in a box. When his brother asked why he had done that, Mark said that he was putting the dog dirt into the box that was there for the purpose. His brother replied that he was in fact putting it into the US mailbox. Signs can be very confusing.

I believe—and the Local Government Committee agrees—that education is paramount. There was unanimous support for that position in the evidence that we received. In written evidence, the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland argued in support of an amendment that would have required local authorities to engage staff in an educational role. However, the committee felt that that was overly prescriptive. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities gave examples of current good practice in one council, which issued standard letters to the occupiers of a housing estate outlining their responsibilities and highlighting the health risks of their behaviour. That approach had some success, but other evidence made it clear that we had to legislate to place a duty on councils to respond to this problem.

The Scottish Kennel Club agreed that education was important. However, it suggested that local authorities should use the knowledge and expertise currently available to ensure that educational programmes are targeted and appropriate. I believe that we have to teach in schools, we have to have adverts and we have to inform the public clearly of our proposals.

At some point in the future, all dogs might be licensed, but I think that that is some way away and will be for a new Parliament. The change of emphasis in the offence from allowing a dog to foul to the offence of not picking up afterwards is important. Education through schools and public information, fixed penalty notices, local authority officers able to issue such notices and the removal of corroboration, which are all part of the bill, will have a positive impact on improving the quality of life of people in Scotland. Keith Harding must be congratulated once again.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

From now on, speeches should be of three minutes maximum. There is far too much noise in the chamber. If members want to lobby, they should lobby outside please, not in the chamber. We have until 16.35.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 4:16 pm, 13th March 2003

I am pleased to speak in this debate as I was the first member to sign Keith Harding's bill proposal after it was published. I thank him for introducing the bill, which will obviously be passed today. I congratulate Jamie McGrigor on the birth of his new child, Viagra. It shows that there is still lead in that old pencil yet.

As we know, there are 0.5 million dogs in Scotland today and 80 tonnes of excrement are currently laid on the pavements and parks of Scotland. This innovative and positive bill will help to tackle that problem by dealing with people who fail to clear up their dog's mess, rather than those whose dogs foul.

Many of us who have young children are disgusted when we go into parks and see widespread distribution of dog faeces on our green spaces. Trish Godman touched on the health aspect. As those who have been following the progress of the bill know, some 300 children a year are blinded through toxocariasis spread by faeces. It is therefore important from a health and safety point of view, as well as from an aesthetic point of view, that the matter is dealt with.

Brian Adam raised the issue of incontinent dogs. I was first alerted to that matter when one day I was walking along the Brockburn Road in Pollok and I saw something that looked as if it could have been laid only by an extinct species of dinosaur. It looked like a coprolite rather than a good old-fashioned Glasgow jobbie and was about a foot and a half long. I thought that the sooner we had effective legislation to deal with the issue, the better.

The Tidy Britain Group's attitude and awareness survey 1998 showed that dog fouling ranked alongside vandalism as the issue that most caused concern to people throughout Britain. That was echoed in a survey that was done in Glasgow in the mid-90s, when dog fouling was classed as the third most important issue.

The issue can sometimes cause arguments between dog owners and non-owners. To quote the policy memorandum:

"Dog fouling, especially in places such as playing fields, public parks and on pavements, is generally resented by people who are not dog owners and can generate an "anti-dog" feeling." The bill has been treated fairly and equitably by the Executive, and the non-partisan way in which it has gone through the Local Government Committee shows exactly how the Parliament should work. I trust that the bill will make a difference in cleaning up our streets and ensuring that irresponsible dog owners are brought to book.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 4:19 pm, 13th March 2003

It is difficult to say something novel, given that I am sixth or seventh down the line of speakers. However, I thank Keith Harding for undertaking a member's bill on dog fouling. One novel thing to say is that there seems to be a dispute about the introductory date. One document that I read said 11 June 2002 and the other said 26 June 2002. I am sure that Keith Harding knows which is right. That apart, the Local Government Committee gave full support to the bill and most of our discussions were about the practicalities involved, such as what happens if an offender gives the wrong name or does not give their name. The amendment that was agreed to today related to that issue.

Following on from what Kenny Gibson said, there is no doubt that the issue is important. Although there might not be as many letters about it in my mailbag as there are about litter, the two issues are closely intertwined. One of the contributions that the bill has made is that it has provided a model for looking at the issue of litter, which is very important. When the First Minister spoke on behalf of the Scottish Executive about future policy, he said that there was a tremendous amount of support for making progress on a litter strategy. Keith Harding has made an important contribution in that regard.

As we know, the current legislation is inadequate. The change in emphasis from dog fouling to picking up dog mess will result in a much more constructive approach. In addition, as many members have mentioned, there is the vital issue of education. I wonder whether the minister might consider whether the television advertising, or whatever form of advertising is used, could deal with the litter and quality of life issues as well as dog fouling, so that the wider agenda is covered.

On the financial implications, I agree with the view of many of the Local Government Committee's witnesses that the bill will be cost neutral. In the context of the wider litter agenda, it could save us millions of pounds in the long term. I congratulate Keith Harding on an important bill.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:21 pm, 13th March 2003

I congratulate my colleague of many years standing, both in Stirling Council and in the Parliament, on his dedication. He has brought through the Parliament a piece of practical legislation that will add to the quality of life in our communities. In many cases, it will allow parts of our open spaces and play parks to be reclaimed. At the moment, many people are terrified of taking their children into those areas. The atmosphere is certainly not welcoming.

When I raised a dog-fouling issue with Aberdeenshire Council two years ago, the council was very good and provided some extra dog-fouling bins and litter bins. The council officers said that they needed a change in the legislation. That was about the time that Keith Harding was introducing the bill. He sensed the mood of what was going on in councils across Scotland.

The bill is a practical piece of legislation that will enhance the image of the Parliament. I am very disappointed by the approach of the press, which has poked fun at it. I suspect that the issue will have been raised with every councillor and every MSP at some stage. Indeed, at a surgery in Laurencekirk on Monday night, I had yet another deputation about dog fouling. I explained what Keith Harding's bill would do. There was a question about when the bill would be implemented and whether councils would be resourced to do the things that they will have to do. I pointed out that the special bags were available from the local library. No one knew that, because there is no process of education to provide such information.

Members of the deputation that visited me said that the dog-fouling bin that had been installed in a certain area was being used well—people were stopping cars and putting bags into it. However, they complained that the bin was too small and was not emptied on a regular basis. The councils will have about six months to deal with those practical aspects, because the bill will not be implemented in real terms until September, six months after Her Majesty signs it off.

It is important that people have access to all those facilities and that bins are put in the right place. The education campaign, too, is vital. I congratulate the Executive on the generous £100,000 start that it has given to that campaign. We need to kick-start the process at an early stage.

Richard Simpson gave a good description of the health problems that cross-infection can cause among young children. Other members have mentioned that.

The bill does not represent a witch hunt of dog owners such as me. It is about responsible dog ownership. We must recognise that, for many lonely or aged people, the dog keeps them sane and alive by giving them daily companionship.

Some people have said to me that people should not be allowed to have dogs unless they can look after them and that they should be made to prove their worth before being given a dog licence, but I think that that is over the top. I hope that this practical measure, which has been introduced by my friend Keith Harding, will provide us with the spur to deal with some terrible problems in society. I hope that it will help to give our play parks back to our toddlers and our playing fields back to those who wish to use them.

Presiding Officer, I will not use all my time. I simply congratulate Keith Harding on his bill.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Mr Davidson has in fact used all his time.

I am conscious that members want to know exactly when decision time will take place, so I will make another announcement. A number of speakers have dropped off my list, so it looks like decision time will begin at 16.35 or thereabouts.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:25 pm, 13th March 2003

I, too, congratulate Keith Harding, who has given an excellent example of how a single member can achieve something worth while. He has withstood a great deal of ridicule and flak, but he has persevered. Although many other people have helped him, he personally has steered the bill through. In doing so, he has shown that the Parliament can work—although we should consider Tricia Marwick's point that it will be interesting to see the first bill that gets through without Executive support. However, Keith Harding has led the way and has provided a great public service.

As other members have said, the issue that the bill deals with is important. Although it is easily ridiculed, the issue affects a great many people and is the sort of thing on which this Parliament should legislate. Although dog fouling is dealt with by councils, the existing law is entirely wrong and Keith Harding's bill is much more sensible.

The bill is the sort of bill that should trigger a parliamentary review by the relevant committee in a year or two, so that we can see whether it has worked. As others have mentioned, the implementation of the bill and the provision of propaganda, information and equipment for its enforcement are all important, because without those things the bill will have been a waste of time. The Parliament must instigate a proper inquiry into the success of such bills to see whether they work in practice. If we do that, we will have done a great service to Scotland.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:27 pm, 13th March 2003

The debate may not have generated as much heat as this morning's debate, and the bill may not be the most earth-shattering piece of legislation that the Parliament has produced, but we should be in no doubt that the issue is of much importance to many members of the public. Given the volume of correspondence that I and others have received on the subject, I congratulate Keith Harding on the bill. It deals with an important matter and will make life much better and safer for people in our streets and public places. The case for introducing the legislation has been well made. It will attempt to solve the problem by making dog owners responsible for their dogs.

I congratulate Keith Harding, the staff and members of the Local Government Committee and Trish Godman, who is its convener. Keith Harding has been very brave. Some newspaper reports have said that the bill, when coupled with the fact that this morning's debate was on the Iraq situation, is something to have a bit of a laugh about. I can assure members that dog fouling is not a laughing matter to the people outside. The bill shows the Scottish Parliament at its best and shows how we can all work together. The legislation will make a great difference to people's lives. Once again, I congratulate Keith Harding.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:28 pm, 13th March 2003

I had not realised that my questions to Keith Harding during the stage 1 debate had had such an effect, so I want to put on record the fact that it was remiss of me not to congratulate Keith Harding on introducing the bill. I think that that may have caused some confusion, especially to his colleague David Davidson.

As many members have said, the most important point is that the bill will change the offence from that of letting a dog foul to that of failing to clear up the mess. If reinforcement is needed, let me say that my constituents in Laurencekirk—I hope that David Davidson is listening—as well as those in Stonehaven and Inverbervie have come to me and commented on the bill. Keith Harding is to be congratulated, and I want to ensure that that is on the record.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 4:29 pm, 13th March 2003

I thank all the members who have contributed to the debate for their kind comments.

I have very few points to address, other than Sylvia Jackson's. The act will come into force six months after royal assent, which is likely to be around four weeks after today, if the bill is passed, but that is not fixed.

I am glad that Dr Jackson mentioned that the bill is sound and is an example that the Executive might use in future. Perhaps I should consider patenting it or at least hope that I will get royalties in the future.

Having said all that, I thank everyone for their contributions today and I urge all members to support the bill.