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Column 1047Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shelton, Sir William
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory
Mr. Tom Sackville.
Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Soley : I misjudged the character of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and I should like to withdraw my comments about the knocking of his knees because what I thought was the knocking of his knees were the muted chimes of Big Ben. The right hon. Gentleman had mettle and he carried it through and I should like those comments to go on the record.
(1) In section 37 of the Local Government Act 1988 [Power of Secretary of State to provide for Local Authority dog registration schemes] for the word "may" there shall be substituted the word "shall",
(2) If such regulations have not been made by the first day of January 1990 the Secretary of State shall lay a report before Parliament stating the reasons why not.'.-- [Dame Janet Fookes.] Brought up, and read the First time.
.--( ) The following subsection shall be substituted for subsection (1) of section 37 of the Local Government Act 1988-- (1) The Secretary of State shall, by regulations to be laid before Parliament before 1st January 1990, make provision for the establishment and administration of a dog registration scheme by local authorities, or such other organisations as he may, after consulting with them, designate.'.
Amendment No. 262, in Title, line 24, after 1976', insert to amend section 37 of the Local Government Act 1988 ; '.
Dame Janet Fookes : New clause 43 stands in the name of myself, many of my hon. Friends and a number of Opposition Members. In other words, it commands a quite remarkable degree of cross-party support. That feeling is echoed in the country at large. A recent public opinion poll suggested that 92 per cent. of the population questioned was in favour of some form of dog registration scheme. Such a scheme is the purpose of the new clause.
Hon. Members may remember that the Local Government Act 1988 knocked out the dog licence, but that the other place inserted provisions for a dog registration scheme. That gave to the Secretary of State, the power to operate the scheme but did not oblige him to do so. The purpose of the new clause is to impose that obligation upon him. In other words, there would be a compulsory dog registration scheme.
Neither the relevant section of last year's Act nor this new clause lays down details. I think that that is right because I am concerned here to argue the principles in favour of such a scheme. There are many computations and many ways of doing so, in terms of both finance and precise detail. Suffice it to say that several organisations support the principle. It is worth giving a list of them because in themselves they are an interesting reflection of the way in which a dog registration scheme has caught the public imagination. Not surprisingly, the National Farmers Union is strongly in favour of such a scheme. Its members suffer from livestock worrying from stray dogs out of control. It is not surprising either that the postmen's union, the Union of Communication Workers, is very much in favour. It will be able to tell hon. Members better than I could how many thousand bites its postmen receive in a year. I am told that it is a great many.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I want to confirm my hon. Friend's important point about the interests of the postmen in this matter. On a large estate in my constituency, the postal services have been suspended three times in 18 months due to very severe attacks on postmen.
Dame Janet Fookes : It is also not surprising that animal welfare organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Canine Defence League, and the Battersea dogs' home-- those who have to deal with stray and difficult dogs in the streets and in the fields--are most keen on such a scheme. Also keen on the scheme are the British Veterinary Association and the Association of District Councils, which is another body that sees the difficulties, quite literally sometimes, on the ground. Dog fouling is something which upsets many members of the public, not only those who love dogs, but those who find this a nuisance and, in some cases, a tragedy where diseases are communicated, especially to children.
It would be helpful if I explained the kind of scheme that I would like to see. However, it is important to bear in mind that there are variations, and that the House could decide at leisure what would be the most suitable, if the principle is adopted tonight. I would envisage a national computer bureau being set up, which would have the names of the owners and the dogs listed. There would be a permanent identification of the dog, which would not simply be by a tag on a collar which could be removed or not put on at all. There are several possibilities, for
Column 1049example, tattooing. Another interesting possibility is a tiny microchip implant under the dog's skin, which could be read off like a bar code at the outlet to a supermarket. It can be done quite painlessly-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us are extremely concerned to hear the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) put forward her arguments. It is obvious from the attendance in the Chamber that many hon. Members are interested. Could we have a little order so we can understand what the hon. Member says?-- [Interruption.]
The RSPCA asked the London School of Economics to
report--independent of the RSPCA--various possibilities for schemes and the costings of them. I shall not bore the House with all the details of the report, as it is quite a long document. However, it is worth while anyone with a serious interest in the matter looking at all the information contained in the report. It gives many different figures for the kind of schemes that it might be possible to set up, depending on whether one asked dog owners to foot the entire bill, or whether it was done partly by them and partly by local authorities. What is important is that there should be a dog registration bureau, which, according to this report, could be run quite simply. A famous computer firm was asked to work out the details. So the details are provided by an organisation that knows what it is talking about. That, linked with proper dog wardens introduced everywhere by district councils, would provide the means of enforcement.
Mr. Hardy : The hon. Lady knows that I have a considerable interest in this matter. Does she accept that her view would receive even wider support if she made it clear that any fee that was to be paid as a result of the registration scheme would be centrally determined? I hope that she will reject the Government's longstanding view that responsibility should be passed on to local authorities, and that they should fix the fee. That aspect causes considerable anxiety among many people who are interested in dogs, especially dog owners who know that they would pay whatever fee was charged and that many of those who cause the problem would continue to pay nothing.
Dame Janet Fookes : In this regard it is interesting to note that the number of dog licences rose by 60 per cent. in Northern Ireland when the fee was updated a few years ago under an order that applied only to Northern Ireland. I believe that the scheme I have in mind would have an even higher take-up, for various reasons that might bore the House at this hour.
A colour-coded tag on a dog showing that it has an up-to-date licence enables a dog warden to see at a glance whether the dog is properly registered. Unlike unregistered television sets, unregistered dogs make themselves known. Dog wardens with the power to enforce the law can get on to the problem straight away. It is essential first, however, that the dog be properly registered and linked to its owner.
Column 1050Dog wardens and RSPCA inspectors tell me that one of their greatest problems is that of trying to prove ownership. It is all too easy for someone to disclaim ownership and to say that a dog belongs to a sister or brother-in-law and is being looked after for two weeks. In a recent court case in Stevenage the charge against a man was dismissed because he claimed that the dogs in question were not his--they belonged to his company. Present or future legislation will not have its full effect as long as that can happen.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend has announced various measures in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I have considered them carefully. Some are useful, others less so, but they all fail on this key point : it is essential to be able to identify a dog permanently, and to link it with its owner.
The Association of District Councils has sent in its own plans for a dog registration scheme. I believe they are on my right hon. Friend's desk now. It would be interesting to know whether he has any comments to make on them, but it is instructive that the organisation feels so strongly about the problem that it is prepared to propose its own scheme.
If the Government do not want to take on the ordering of the scheme there is no reason why another body--perhaps voluntary, like the RSPCA, or the Association of District Councils, or even a private firm--should not run the scheme. I hope that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members will join me in the Lobby tonight if the Government cannot concede this point.
I am concerned about stray dogs, and many people who have seen them looking miserably out of dogs' homes share that concern. For the last 15 years I have sought to persuade Governments of both complexions to take some action. The situation does not improve ; it gets worse, and now we see the development of a fashion for more aggressive and larger breeds, often kept in unsuitable conditions and often not exercised sufficiently. Some of them are kept in places where there are small children, even though the breeds are not suitable to be in close contact with small children, and it is time to act. We know that there is the ever-present threat of the spread of rabies through Europe. I am aware, of course, that there are contingency plans , but how much easier it would be if we at least had all dogs registered and knew exactly where we were going.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : My hon. Friend is concerned about people having macho dogs with small children and I think that we all agree with her, but how does a dog registration scheme affect that?
Dame Janet Fookes : If we had the system that I am suggesting whereby every dog was registered on a computer we could have additional information referring, perhaps, to the breed or type of dog. If we had dog wardens whose prime responsibility, in addition to rounding up strays, was the enforcement of the law, it would be easy, using a computer system, to light up where the dogs were and, if necessary, make particular checks on them. That is the key point of that system.
Dogs that were not registered because people had not bothered to do so could be taken in as strays and dealt with. If people did not claim them, one would have an answer. As it is, the requisite powers are not in place and it is high time they were. I hope that the House will show
Column 1051decisively that the time has come to take the plunge and go for a compulsory dog registration scheme linked to dog wardens. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not able to meet me on that, I must force the clause to a Division.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : I should like to address the general question of dog registration, although my hon. Friends and I have tabled a specific amendment. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) deserves considerable credit for the effort that she has put into campaigning on this subject over many years. Many hon. Members are here to listen and to take part in the debate, and that is a tribute to the public and private concern that the hon. Lady and many others have shown. [Interruption.]
Mr. Taylor : I mentioned public concern because it is clear after attacks over a long period, and especially after the recent attacks by rottweilers, that there is enormous anxiety about the welfare of the animals and the impact on communities of attacks, disease and general pest control. There is also private concern because it is evident from the number of hon. Members who are present that the Secretary of State can be beaten on the issue of his reluctance to take action, although I think that the House will have to press the matter to a Division because he will be reluctant to accept the new clause.
Much has been said in recent weeks about attacks by dogs which have been bred and trained to guard and to attack. Nobody suggests that a dog registration scheme will answer all the problems or that no further attacks will occur, but at least there will be a guarantee that owners can be traced and identified when incidents take place. That will be a strong incentive for them to keep their dogs under proper control.
Mr. Taylor : The scheme is necessary for other reasons. For example, in addition to attacks, animals cause other nuisances, not least the danger of disease, the concern of farmers over sheep worrying by dogs and car and other accidents caused by strays. Although local authorities have powers to establish their own schemes--no doubt that will form part of the Secretary of State's case against the new clause--they are unlikely to be able to set up effective schemes, even if they could find the cash to do so.
The Secretary of State will probably also argue that there is already a requirement for dogs in public places to wear collars and identity tags. As the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) pointed out the shortcomings of the previous dog licence system, so a Department of the Environment working party report back in 1976 said that the collar and tag requirement was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The new clause would ensure that we had an effective scheme in place.
Column 1052A compulsory scheme would prevent owners from denying ownership. It would be self-financing through the charges that would be levied. Sweden is an example of how effective such a scheme could be. Battersea dogs' home receives about 22,000 strays a year. In Stockholm they have difficulty in filling cages for 50 strays. The argument used by the hon. Member for High Peak would suggest that when the fee for dog licences was increased in Northern Ireland there would be a dramatic fall even from the low levels registration that there had been before, but that did not happen. In fact, there was an increase in registration, even though the scheme was not on the same scale or basis as the one being argued for today. We are arguing for a scheme in which there is clear identification and enforcement, a scheme that is of benefit to the animals themselves as well as to the public, and one which commands the clear support of the population. If hon. Members have the guts to follow their principles and vote for such a scheme, it will also have the clear support of the House of Commons.
I am not asking for a dramatic change of heart by hon. Members, who have already shown their support for the scheme by signing the early-day motion and by supporting the scheme already set out in legislation, which the Secretary of State has decided not to implement because the Act says "may" rather than "shall". We are asking hon. Members to support just a small change which will compel the Secretary of State to take action. I hope that the House will do so.
Mr. Ridley : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for the work that she does for animal welfare, and for the consistency of her campaigns for the registration scheme, about which she spoke so eloquently. Both she and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) spent the majority of their time talking about a dog registration scheme, when the House should first direct itself to the problems and what we should do about them.
Irresponsible owners who fail properly to control their dogs cause three problems of serious concern. The first is attacks by dangerous dogs--a recent phenomenon that has got a lot of publicity. The second problem is fouling in public places, and the third is stray dogs. These are becoming more and more serious in everyday life, particularly in urban areas. Filthy pavements, packs of stray dogs, let alone isolated attacks by uncontrolled dangerous animals, are becoming a major threat to the quality of life, and in some cases to safety and health.
We are determined to do all that is possible to deal with these problems. My hon. Friend said that the time has come to act. I agree with her, and I am happy to announce a package of measures to provide what I believe is the best solution to these important but essentially local problems. I announced in March our intention to require local authorities to tackle these problems. They are local problems and should be tackled by the local authorities. I can now give the House details.
First, on dog fouling, as part of a package of measures to deal with the increasing problem of litter, I propose to place on local authorities a duty to clear up dog messes in public places. This will be enforced through a code of practice to which local authorities will have to adhere. Any member of the public will be entitled to seek an order in the courts if a local authority fails in its duty to do so. This duty will be backed up by the existing powers of local
Column 1053authorities to make byelaws against dog fouling or to restrict dogs from certain public places, particularly where children play. Secondly, on stray dogs--
Both the police and local authorities have powers to take up, hold and, if necessary, destroy dogs. The police have a duty to hold a stray animal if it is brought in by a member of the public, but no one has the duty to collect up and deal with stray dogs. I propose that that duty should be placed firmly on local authorities, freeing police time for what should be their proper tasks. Local authorities will be able to undertake that duty as they wish.
I do not propose to issue a code of guidance, and many councils will no doubt conclude that a dog warden system on the lines already operated by some 200 local authorities is the best way to fulfil their duties. I see no other way that local authorities will be able to discharge their duties. I claim in aid the Opposition, by quoting from their October 1986 conference declaration :
"We will set up properly financed dog warden services in the interests of people's health and the welfare of domestic pets." In support of local authorities' general proactive responsibility, I intend giving them powers to charge owners seeking to collect stray dogs from custody and a clear duty to enforce existing requirements in respect of collars and identification tags. Local authorities already have powers, subject to various statutory restrictions, to make byelaws requiring dogs to be held on leads in various public places--on roads, in parks and gardens and on beaches. In other countries such leash laws are used more widely than here. We propose examining the present range of order and byelaw-making powers. As to dealing with dangerous dogs, we fully share the alarm caused by recent horrific stories concerning rottweilers and the attacks that they made. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has a responsibility for the control of dangerous dogs and for dog welfare, announced this afternoon a package of measures to tighten up the present controls on dangerous dogs in the Dogs Act 1871.
He proposes, first, to allow the courts to appoint someone other than the owner to destroy a dangerous animal ; secondly, to increase to £400 the maximum fine for failure to comply with an order to control or to destroy a dog ; thirdly, to give the courts the power to ban from owning or keeping a dog anyone who is the subject of a previous order made under the Act.
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : I submit that it is neither practicable nor possible to ban an individual from owning a dog. A husband, for example, who is banned from keeping a dog because of cruelty or for any other reason can arrange for his wife or another member of the family to obtain a dog for him. Would it not be possible to ban a dog being kept at a particular residence or under a particular tenancy? When the tenancy changes or when the house or flat is sold, the ban would be cancelled. The problem will never be dealt with if only one member of a family is banned.
I make the point that nowhere do those effective and
straightforward solutions require for their implementation a dog registration scheme. The fact that an owner has paid a registration fee would not have any bearing on the problem of dog fouling. Nor would registration prevent people from allowing their dogs to stray. In a recent series of advertisements, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals declared :
"There is overwhelming evidence that dog registration would help solve the plight of stray dogs in Britain owners could be identified, traced and held responsible for their dogs' actions." There is already a statutory requirement on owners to put collars and identification tags on their dogs. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Drake that identification is essential, and I shall be happy to review the powers currently available to ensure that any modern form of identification can be attached to the dog rather than just to its collar--but that would not involve registration. People can be fined for breaching--
Mr. Rogers rose --