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Mr. Ridley : I will not give way because I am in the middle of a sentence.

People who breach the law on dogs wearing collars are liable to a fine of-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) must restrain himself. The Secretary of State has said that he will not give way at the moment.

Mr. Ridley : We shall give local authorities a clear duty to enforce the collar or identification requirement. That is all the powers they need in to order to deal with strays.

The alleged overwhelming evidence rests on the dog registration scheme introduced in Northern Ireland in 1984. The report recently produced on the problem of straying, to which reference has been made, made the following comments on the success of the scheme : "depending on which figure is accepted for 1984 (of dogs destroyed after straying) the total number of dogs destroyed since the new order was introduced has increased or decreased ... Longer term evidence will be needed before the new system can be judged fairly." That is hardly overwhelming evidence.

In none of the recent regrettable rottweiler attacks was there any evidence that identification of the owner was a problem. These owners need the law, albeit reinforced as I have said, to be enforced against them. They do not need registration. The sort of people who would allow their rottweilers to attack pensioners and children in the street will not think twice about buying a dog because of a requirement to register. Therefore, there is no logic in the campaign for a dog registration scheme.

Mr. Marlow : This proposal will obviously be a burden on local government : so be it, that is fine and there is no complaint about that. However, to help local government to discharge that burden, my right hon. Friend suggests that there should be a system of byelaws. At the moment, it is difficult and takes a long time to pass a byelaw. Could my right hon. Friend explain how the byelaws can be made readily available and can be put through the House in a relatively short time?

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1 am

Mr. Ridley : I quite agree with my hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are reviewing the procedure and the conditions under which byelaws are made to ensure that every local authority can easily apply for the byelaws that it will need. The measures will have to be enacted and will be brought in at the earliest opportunity. There will be time to get the law absolutely right when we come to do that.

Mr. Rogers : Early in his exposition, the Secretary of State mentioned that he was going to charge local authorities with the responsibility to ensure that dogs did not foul pavements, and that that would involve the courts. How will that court process operate in order to prevent dogs from excreting on pavements? What will the process entail for local authorities?

Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman knows that no process of law, administration or registration will prevent dogs from fouling pavements. For the sake of health, it is essential to ensure that someone is responsible for cleaning up the mess. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have wanted that.

There is no logic in the campaign for registration, the real reason for which was that it was a way to raise money. This policy will cost a certain amount of money. Estimates commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals from the London School of Economics suggest that the total annual cost of employing a dog warden, including the cost of holding and dealing with strays, is about £30,000 a year. The city of Bradford, which is widely believed to operate an effective dog warden scheme, and on which the LSE based its estimate, employs five wardens. Therefore, even in a city the size of Bradford, the annual cost will be about £150,000. That is the equivalent of about 40p on the community charge for the city, and that is not counting any revenue support grant which might go towards it.

Is it justifiable to set up a new scheme, with its attendant bureaucracy and the additional costs involved, to collect hypothecated tax from dog owners in order to finance such a small sum, or to chase up the many dog owners who would seek to avoid the tax? I invite the House to think about the registration scheme. Opposition Members have complained bitterly about the cost and complexity of setting up the community charge registration scheme, and the cost and complexity of a dog registration scheme would be far worse. Every working dog and every old lady's pet dog would have to be registered. Different interest groups would press for exemptions for all sorts of category of owner.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests that the dog registration fee should be £65. That is as much as twice what many people will have to pay as a community charge if they are on full rebate. We cannot expect people to pay twice as much for the registration of their dog as they pay for local authority services. There would have to be a complicated system of rebates for old-age pensioners, for example, the blind, those who own sheepdogs and those who are on income support. The register would have to be kept up to date, and dogs die at a fairly early age and are transferred from one owner to another. New dogs are required at regular

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intervals. All these factors would have to be included in the production of a register. It would be the hardest register of all to collect information for and to set up.

The Kennel Club, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Drake did not refer as an organisation concerned with dogs and one which supported her, does not support a dog registration scheme. I shall quote from its letter to me, which I received today. It reads : "Our data base contains"--

it has its own registration scheme--

"2.3 million dogs and is a voluntary scheme but despite this the change of address of owners and their names does occur with great frequency (10 per cent. a year) and we are seldom notified. The numerous other arguments against a national registration scheme are well known and have been clearly stated".

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I ask the Secretary of State to adjust his perspective for about 10 seconds. Does he realise that the registration is of the owner, not of the dog? Responsibility for the behaviour of the dog, including any misdemeanours, and its welfare and care is placed on the owner, and the owner could be traced. Will the Secretary of State consider registration from that angle?

Mr. Ridley : Of course we could not make a dog register itself. We would have to register the owner. The hon. Gentleman states the obvious. The new clause is all about a dog registration scheme. Surely the hon. Gentleman understands that that means registering owners and not dogs.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend did not wish deliberately to mislead the House when he referred to the fee that the RSPCA suggests, but he most certainly has done so. He quoted a flat, one-off fee for life. The annual alternative fee would not be anything like £65. Instead, it would be £15.

Mr. Ridley : I thank my hon. Friend for that elucidation. I do not think that a fee of £15 would be all that popular. Nor do I think that it would be easy to collect that fee instead of £65. I believe that there would be massive problems with evasion if there were fees of that sort.

On the other hand, the community charge mechanism is effective and simple. It would provide a reliable source of income from the local community to deal with a community problem. A dog registration scheme would probably be the worst tax to raise money that it was possible to invent.

We shall of course be consulting local authorities and other interested bodies about the details of what I propose. I believe that the package I have outlined will give local authorities the tools with which to do the necessary job. What the Government propose will tackle the real problems without inventing an expensive and complex bureaucracy and a new tax that many people would find it hard to pay or would wish to evade. I hope that my hon. Friend feels that what we have suggested will meet the real concern of people that the situation should improve and that a dog registration scheme is therefore not necessary.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) on her speech, in which she dealt with a series of issues of considerable public significance. The Secretary of State said that we should concentrate on the problems and then

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try to find effective solutions, and I agree with him. I told my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) that I did not care too much whether he was in the Chamber tonight, so long as he made sure that his dog Offa was here and on my side when I spoke.

The recent series of incidents in which people have been savagely mauled by rottweilers has shocked the people of Britain. They want action to be taken now so that safety in public places is improved, with greater control being exercised over dog owners and their animals. In previous years we have endured other such incidents involving other breeds of dog. It just happens that rottweilers are fashionable at the moment. In the past it has been alsatians or doberman pinschers. It is not a new problem.

Unless better protection is provided for the public, and unless better enforcement systems in respect of owners can be used, some of these dogs will, literally, be lethal. A warden scheme and an owner registration scheme represent the best way in which to begin to resolve the problem of dog attacks and the problem of public health and hygiene which is associated with dogs fouling public open spaces and footpaths.

I share the Secretary of State's view that these problems will not be immediately resolved by whatever scheme is finally put in place. It would be unrealistic to suppose otherwise. However, I do not accept that to increase the level of fines and to lay further duties on local authorities without making any specific commitment to provide additional central Government finance to support the administration of the scheme would be right. Apart from public safety and public health and hygiene, the nuisance caused by dogs is often considerable. The number of accidents involving dogs and motor vehicles is also considerable. Taken together, all these things cost a great deal of public money.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : The hon. Gentleman began his speech by referring, quite properly, to the problems caused by dangerous dogs, but does he agree that a dog registration scheme would not deal with the problems caused by dangerous dogs? The RSPCA accepts that a dog registration scheme which tried to identify particular breeds of dogs would be unworkable, particularly if we take into account the fact that many problems are caused not by rottweilers but by other dogs which would also have to be registered.

Dr. Cunningham : I do not agree with any of that. Of course, all owners would be required to register their dogs.

There is a wide range of issues and problems. Although the current anxiety is principally about vicious or violent dogs, there is widespread concern about health, hygiene and accidents. We need a system which can begin to deal with all those issues, not just the recent incidents involving a particular breed. Those incidents which have gained media attention are just a tiny fraction of the incidents involving dogs almost every day.

1.15 am

Perhaps I should declare an interest as a dog owner and dog lover. One of the first points that we should recognise is that not everyone comes into that category. People are often unsure or afraid of dogs, even dogs which are very friendly, like the dog in my family. However we consider these problems, we need to bring more pressure to bear

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and exercise more controls over dog owners, and registering them is the beginning of the way to resolve those problems.

According to the latest estimate, there were more than 7 million dogs in the United Kingdom in 1988, 500,000 more than in the previous year. The increase is forecast to continue. The problems will continue to grow. The Secretary of State has said nothing to convince the public that the Government's proposals will resolve the nature or scale of the problems. Of course, we need a system which helps local authorities properly to finance dog warden schemes. I do not believe that that burden should be placed solely on poll tax payers. Surely dog owners have a duty to contribute to the cost of the resolution of these problems. A realistic registration fee is a way of achieving that.

Last year, during the passage of another Local Government Bill, the Government abolished the licence fee, which was a paltry 37p. That fee was out of date and the system was neglected and discredited. It was right that it should go, but it was wrong that it was not replaced by a more effective scheme which addressed the problems. The Government have created a vacuum which they clearly regret, as evidenced by the announcements of the Secretary of State. The House of Lords quite rightly wrote into that Bill provisions for a dog registration scheme. The Secretary of State immediately made clear his intention not to activate those proposals. He should think again. Perhaps the other place will again force him to reconsider, aided by increasing public opinion in support of what the other place and we say.

In 1978, the then Labour Government commissioned a working party on these problems. It reported in 1978, but was overtaken by the 1979 general election. The incoming Conservative Government set the report aside and took no action. We were convinced then and we remain convinced that a registration scheme should be set up, to be administered at local level. I share the view of the Secretary of State that, whatever the system, these problems will be adequately and effectively dealt with only at local level. We cannot resolve them with Ministers and Whitehall having all the powers and local authorities having none.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : I, too, am a dog owner and a dog lover. I have been trying to understand the arguments of the hon Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about registration and to relate them to strays. When I was in the north-west, my office was next to the RSPCA home and I saw the horror of all the stray dogs being brought in and put down. It was a terrible sight. How will registration prevent that? How would the hon. Gentleman ensure that owners of dogs which have litters were on some sort of register? The House would be interested to hear how he envisages a system of registration working.

Dr. Cunningham : The best way to tackle a problem is to make a start. Unless we beging to do something, the position will worsen--

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Answer the question.

Dr. Cunningham : Shut up.

Mr. Riddick : Answer.

Dr. Cunningham : I am answering the question, you fathead.

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Mr. Marlow : On this side of the House we do not think that you are a fathead, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am in a very tolerant mood tonight.

Dr. Cunningham : No discourtesy to you was intended, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As the hon. Member for Drake said, we need a system which connects dog owners and animals. Nothing that the Secretary of State has said tonight will bring about that simple connection. Unless there is such a link in identification, which registration would begin to put in place, nothing will begin to resolve the problem of strays. It is no good suggesting that people should pay larger fines to get their dogs out of dog pounds. Only one in 10 stray dogs are collected from the pounds by their owners. If they know that there will be an ever larger financial penalty when they collect their dogs, the percentage being collected will fall, not rise. The right hon. Gentleman's proposals simply do not hang together.

I want to say something about the Secretary of State's dismissal of the proposals in the new clause on grounds of cost and bureaucracy. The RSPCA estimates that the current cost to the public of such a variety of problems is £60 million to £70 million per year and rising. We are already paying a heavy price for our failure to deal with those problems. They can only get worse under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and the costs will increase.

The right hon. Gentleman said that under the new clause all dogs would have to be registered and he made great play about guide dogs for the blind. Of all the categories that he could have chosen, he could not have been more wrong than he was about guide dogs. Dogs like Offa, who belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside do not savage people in public parks and they do not foul public places. In any case, they could be exempt because guide dogs are already subject to a registration scheme. The right hon. Gentleman chose a great many nit-picking arguments and rolled them into an argument about cost and bureaucracy to support his claim that the scheme would not work.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the cost of the scheme for pensioners. They, too, could be exempt-- [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman raised the point. Pensioners' house dogs are usually tiny and do not cause the majority of the problems. Exempt or not, with modern technology and management systems it would be quite a simple matter to have a registration scheme which could be effectively administered.

Mr. Rogers : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Cunningham : I have nearly finished my speech.

The same Secretary of State who opposes dog registration says that he wants to register every person over 18 to pay the poll tax. He says that that will be efficient and will not cost much, but he will not agree to register 7 million animal owners. To use one of his own favourite phrases, he is talking absolute nonsense and he knows it.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Interestingly, those who advocate registration are unwilling to talk about its cost. To put forward a scheme that will involve people making a one-off payment of £65 or an annual payment of £15 is unfair to pensioners, one-parent families and other groups in social need.

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Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Does my hon. Friend have any conception of veterinary fees? Someone who cannot afford to pay £50 or £60 a year should not keep a dog, because every time that their dog is even slightly injured they will pay over £100 for the most elementary treatment. I should welcome a scheme that makes owners pay a proper fee to keep dogs.

Mr. Marshall : As a dog owner, I am well aware of the cost of veterinary fees. There is no reason for placing an additional burden on dog owners, which is what the proponents of the scheme are willing to do.

I do not believe that people would register their dogs. We know that people did not pay the former dog licence. It is perverse logic to suggest that increasing the cost of registration will make people register their dogs. If they did not pay the dog licence, they will not be willing to register.

To say that under a dog registration scheme someone will be able to find out whose dog bit him and who its owner was is absurd in the extreme. If a dog bites someone, will it then stop so that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) or anyone else can look at its tag to find out who its owner is? Of course it will run away as quickly as possible. It is absurd to suggest that a dog registration scheme will stop dogs biting people, postmen or even Labour party canvassers, if there are any left, or stop dogs fouling the pavement.

I have been shocked by the RSPCA's campaign. Its press advertisement was quite irresponsible because the sight of those dogs was quite unrelated to the abolition of the dog licence. It and every hon. Member knows that that advertisement was quite irresponsible. If we are to get rid of the problem of strays we need a system of spaying and neutering. In 1939, the RSPCA signed an agreement with the British Veterinary Association that it would not neuter cats or dogs belonging to the general public, except in special circumstances. The RSPCA is a wealthy organisation. I read an article this evening that stated that it has accumulated funds of £40 million. If it wants to deal with the problem of stray dogs it should use that money to set up spaying and neutering centres.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I shall be brief, but I should like strongly to support the new clause. Although I do not believe that it will solve all the problems, it is a move in the right direction. It will deal vigorously with the problems of dogs, which are caused by irresponsible owners. We have to stress that it is not the dogs themselves that cause the problem, but the actions of irresponsible owners, which allow them to become strays or foul the footpath and cause the majority of problems at present.

1.30 am

The proposals outlined by the Secretary of State were some of the greatest nonsense that I have ever heard him utter. That is saying something with that Secretary of State, because he speaks a lot of nonsense at times. He throws another burden on local authorities and assumes that local authorities can solve this problem. He has shifted it from the owners and the Government and has said to local government, "This is your problem. You solve it." Yet he does not give local authorities the resources or the ability to solve the problem. Without a dog registration scheme, his proposal would be totally inoperable and totally ineffective.

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I remind the House of what the Secretary of State said last year when we dealt with the Lords amendment. He made it very clear then that, although he was not prepared to disapprove of the Lords amendment, he had no intention of operating it. The only reason that he did not want to disapprove of it at that stage--because it is nonsense to allow a proposal to stand in a Bill if one has no intention of operating it--and the only reason that he did not want to put the Lords amendment to the vote was that he felt that he was in danger of losing. The only reason why he has come forward with his nonsensical proposal is to try to dissuade some of his hon. Friends from standing firmly by the new clause and voting against the Government tonight. He is trying to lead them in a false direction. I want to echo a point made in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). I could say much on the issue of dogs, having had a major problem with dogs being banned from parks in Burnley in the 1970s. My hon. Friend made the point clearly that he hoped that any dog registration scheme would have a nationally fixed fee. We had a saga of problems with banning dogs from certain parks and I could talk for hours on that if it was not so late. The case is strengthened for having a nationally fixed fee.

When the Secretary of State referred to byelaws, he had to recognise the difficulty of bringing in byelaws and he should have done more about it than he has done tonight. When the byelaws were introduced in Burnley under the County Borough Act 1881, they had to be incorporated in the County of Lancashire Act 1984. That Act was blocked in this House and in the other place for about two years solely because of the Burnley dog ban in parks.

If the Secretary of State really believes that his solution can work, he must think again. I ask Conservative Members not to be led astray by what the Secretary of State has said tonight. He has offered a proposal that will not solve the problem. If we want to reduce the incidence of dogs fouling our footpaths, straying and attacking children, old people and postmen, we must support the new clause.

Mr. Gale : I will support my hon. Friend in the Lobby tonight--[ Hon. Members :-- "Which one?"] I will support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) and I hope that many of the more than 100 of my hon. Friends who signed the early-day motion will also support the new clause.

I want first to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West, (Mrs. Bottomley), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, for her courtesy on the two occasions when we have met her to discuss the problem and for the attention she has paid to both my hon. Friend the Member for Drake and myself as officers of the all-party group for animal welfare when we have raised the matter with her. It is a sadness to me that after the last occasion on which my hon. Friend and I took a delegation from the RSPCA to meet the Minister, it found it necessary to put out a press release saying that she had been intransigent. She was not. It was neither true nor just. [ Hon. Members :-- "When does the press tell the truth?"] I do not believe that this is a party political issue in any way. There can be no doubt among hon. Members of any party, or on the Front Bench, that there is a problem with stray dogs ; with the fact that 1,000 dogs every day of the year--350,000 dogs per year--are being

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destroyed ; with the damage that is caused by stray animals and with injuries. The difference between us is a genuine one ; it is a difference over how the problem should be solved.

I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in a written answer earlier today, although I am slightly concerned by the caveat that these measures will be introduced subject to legislative opportunity. As many hon. Members have said, each of those measures is dependent upon the identification of the dog and the owner of the dog in question. Every single measure that my right hon. Friend has announced today, such as taking cases involving dangerous dogs to court, giving courts the power to order the destruction of a dog where the owner is not prepared to do so and ordering the implementation of a fine, is dependent upon an identification system. In a sedentary intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) asked how identification would help. The RSPCA is right to say that although a registration and identification system is not the solution to the problem in itself it is the cornerstone of a series of solutions to what is becoming a national problem.

Other hon. Members have asked how we can make people register and have said, "People did not pay the7s 6d licence fee." It is true that they did not and that it fell into disrepute--

Mr. John Marshall : People do not always pay the road fund tax.

Mr. Gale : Precisely, as my hon. Friend says, people do not always pay the road fund tax, but there is no suggestion that the Government will abolish the vehicle licensing scheme. There is no suggestion, for the time being at least, that the televison registration scheme or the gun licence scheme will be abolished. The fact that every hon. Member knows that not every dog owner will register immediately is no reason for sitting back and doing nothing.

Mr. Devlin : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gale : No, I should prefer not to because other hon. Members wish to speak and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to make his own speech in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has suggested a further set of measures this evening that could be provided through the funding raised as a result of a registration scheme, but he has chosen instead to place that funding burden on the ratepayer. I believe that a national dog warden scheme is necessary and desirable and that it is necessary locally to ensure that dog owners do not allow their animals to foul public footpaths and playing greens. However, I also believe as a Conservative--although I did say that this was not a party political matter--that the user should pay. I do not see why the ordinary ratepayer, the non-dog owner, should be required to pay for my dogs, the dogs of any of my hon. Friends or of any old-age pensioners. The figures have been given. The RSPCA has stated that the cost of a national registration scheme would be £65 as a flat fee upon the initial registration of a puppy or approximately £15 per year. It has been said that that would place an unfair burden on old-age pensioners but I remind the House that it costs about £200 per year for each and every year of a dog's life to keep a dog fed and properly

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maintained in terms of veterinary fees. Frankly, sad though it may be, the person who cannot afford the £15 most certainly could not afford the £200--or more for a larger dog-- that it costs to keep an animal per year.

I believe that a national register is practical and possible and that it will help as one ingredient in the solution to the problem. Indeed, I believe that it is essential. However, it need not be unnecessarily bureaucratic. I believe that it needs to be run by the state. It has been said that the Kennel Club already has a regulation scheme. The British Veterinary Association, which backs this proposal, has indicated a willingness to become involved, and so, too, has the RSPCA. For those who would like to see the private sector run the scheme, the Wood Green animal shelter has said that it has the computer capacity and the ability to run such a scheme.

I hope that those more than 100 of my hon. Friends who signed the early-day motion which led to my hon. Friend's new clause will support us in the Lobby tonight.

Mr. McAllion : I do not wish to detain the House at this hour, but, as it was my constituent, an 11-year old girl, Kellie Lynch, who was killed in the attack by a rottweiler dog just two short months ago, I have taken a special interest in the subject. I did not want this debate to pass without making a contribution.

Like the Secretary of State for the Environment, I wish to concentrate on the problems presented to the public by certain breeds of dogs. One problem of which I have been very much aware, but which has not been mentioned so far, is that we do not know the current size of the dog population in this country. In this morning's The Daily Telegraph, for example, it was estimated that the population of rottweilers has increased a hundred fold over the past decade--from 1,800 in 1979 to 180,000 currently. In a recent letter to me, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department estimated that the rottweiler dog population is 90,000, and the researchers for a BBC programme in which I participated recently estimated it at 50,000. Estimates varying from 50,000 to 180,000 must show that we do not know the size of the rottweiler population. Until we know that, we cannot begin to understand the seriousness of the threats of certain dogs to human welfare and safety. It is important that we take the first step towards coming to grips with the problem by instituting a national registration scheme, which would at least show the size of the problem.

The Secretary of State admitted that one problem that we have to confront is attacks by dangerous dogs. He appeared to suggest that this was the problem of the owners rather than the dogs. I dispute that argument, because the owner of the dog which killed my constituent was a very respected breeder, who, up to that time, had had a good record for looking after his dogs. I do not believe that the House can get away with laying all the blame at the door of owners.

Certain breeds of dog in this country are sufficiently dangerous in themselves to justify extra control being brought in by the House to ensure that the public are safe from those dogs.

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One of our first tasks must be to institute a national registration scheme, and to back that up with an effective dog warden scheme in every part of the country to ensure that those dogs can be kept under proper control.

The law at present is deficient because it does not recognise that there are dogs that are inherently dangerous. As the law stands, an attack must take place before any court will define a dog as dangerous. By the time a dog has been so defined, it is too late, the harm and the pain has already been caused to the people who have been attacked. If we allow the law to remain as it is, we will be responsible for any future attacks, so the House must do something about it.

The Secretary of State announced a whole package of measures, which I believe are too little and already too late for the seriousness of the situation. None of those so-called proper laws on dogs would have saved my young constituent's life when she was attacked by that rottweiler, or prevented a rottweiler dog from dragging a young boy off his bike in a park and severely savaging him. [Interruption.] Registration would certainly help ; it does not exist now ; the House should adopt it to ensure better control of dogs.

The law will deal severely with a dog only after an attack takes place, and less severely with the owner. That is no compensation for the victims of these attacks. We have a responsibility to try to do something to help them.

1.45 am

No one in the House can justify the present unrestricted market in which anyone who wants to can acquire any sort of dog. Anyone can own a rottweiler, which can stand 3 ft high and weigh 15 stones. Anyone can own a pit bull terrier. Only this week on breakfast television an American dog warden reported that pit bull terriers have killed 16 people in the United States in the past two and a half years. Anyone in this country can own an animal that I saw advertised in the Exchange & Mart in Scotland a few weeks ago. It was described as a hybrid, 75 per cent. wolf. All one needs to own one of them is money. It does not matter where it is kept, or whether it is allowed to roam free. It does not matter if it is encouraged to be fierce and to attack other people. Dogs are being sold and described as attack dogs and war dogs, and the law will not act until one of them inflicts pain and suffering on someone. That is intolerable.

In an Adjournment debate tomorrow night, I shall make several suggestions about what can be done to control dangerous dogs, but nothing can be done to control them until we have a national registration scheme and know the numbers of dogs and who owns them. That is the essential first step, and the House must not walk away from its responsibilities.

Mr. Hawkins : My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) spoke on the Jimmy Young show this morning. Throughout the interview her host kept saying how reasonable the dog registration scheme seemed and that he could not see why anyone should object to it. My hon. Friend said in her speech tonight that 92 per cent. of the public would support some form of dog registration scheme. My hon. Friend succeeded in fooling Jimmy Young, and the public have been grossly misled by a campaign by the RSPCA.

On the show, my hon. Friend did not have time to detail exactly what the scheme involves. I want to quote a letter

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sent to supporters of the RSPCA, of whom I am one. I am also a local vice-president, and a campaigner for animal rights. The RSPCA wrote to supporters as follows :

"Please support our campaign by writing to your MP today. Simply say that you are in favour of dog registration".

The people who are in favour of this scheme, while claiming that it will cure rape, famine, pestilence, war, acne, dangerous dogs and everything else, have not told the public that it involves--according to the RSPCA and my hon. Friends the Members for Drake and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale)--the permanent branding of dogs. The RSPCA has said :

"we need a law that ensures every dog is marked with a unique and permanently applied number".

I do not want that for my dogs, and I should very much like to see the RSPCA conduct a poll among its dog-owning members to discover what proportion of them, when correctly told what the scheme involved, would vote for this permanent branding--

Dame Janet Fookes : First, it is not only the RSPCA which wants a dog registration scheme. Why should the Association of District Councils take the trouble to present a scheme to my right hon. Friend?

Secondly, why are some voluntary schemes using implants? A good many dog owners want their dogs registered so that, if they are lost or stolen, they can get them back easily.

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