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Mr. Hawkins : That is fine if it is voluntary. I am a great believer in freedom of choice. However, we are suggesting not a voluntary scheme but a compulsory one. The Association of District Councils supports such a scheme because it is a method of taxing dog owners to pay for a dog warden service. I am totally in favour of such a service and I understand that it must be paid for. However, it is quite iniquitous to suggest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North suggested, that it should be paid for by a tax on dog owners whose dogs commit no offence, behave perfectly normally and are properly looked after and controlled.

It is as absurd to say that dog owners should pay the tax for a dog warden service from which we shall all benefit as it would be to say that only child-bearing parents should pay the tax that is used to finance education. For those reasons I shall oppose the introduction of such a scheme. As I say, I am in favour of dog wardens, but they should be paid for by general taxation, because we will all benefit, or by local taxation.

A dog registration scheme has nothing whatever to do with the problem of dangerous dogs. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, most people seem to ignore the fact that in every recent case of rottweilers savaging or damaging people we knew the names of the owners. There was no problem in finding out who they were. The problems arose because of the viciousness of the dogs. That will not solved by an RSPCA scheme for registering dogs, however much such a scheme is supported, and for those reasons I shall oppose it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : We are not talking about a single scheme but about requiring the Secretary of State for the Environment to produce regulations. He already has powers to do that but he has made it clear that he will not use them. There are 200 dog warden services and he can consult the local authority associations, one of which has already submitted a dog registration scheme to him. We are not resting our case simply on one scheme. We

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are saying to the Secretary of State that he is required to produce a scheme and can take into account the objections and benefits put forward in the debate.

Parliament has already required the Secretary of State to produce a scheme, but instead of saying that he "shall" produce one, it said he "may" produce one. This modest new clause does not seek an absolute provision because the second part of it suggests that if the right hon. Gentleman fails to produce a scheme he must produce a statement on 1 January next year and place it before the House so that the House can take a further decision. That is a reasonable request by Parliament.

At a recent meeting of the RSPCA and several other animal organisations, people who face the day-to-day problems posed by stray dogs and problems about the ownership of difficult and savage dogs made it clear that in their day-to-day work they would welcome a dog registration scheme. That day-to-day work is not carried out in the sort of academic fashion in which we work in the House. They said that such a scheme would help them to trace the owners and marry up the stray and difficult dogs with their owners. They said that it would provide some sort of guidance and help for people who often buy dogs and are completely unaware that the soft, cuddly puppies that they buy will grow into dogs that are in some cases completely out of control, even in the families that have helped to bring them up. I shall give an example of how registration is not only desirable but necessary. One of my constituents, a young girl, was walking through a fair when a dog, apparently under the ownership of a person, set upon her. She suffered severe injuries and complained to the police. The police did nothing. She complained to me, and I took the matter up with the police. Under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, a person can be prosecuted for having a dangerous dog. In that case, the person in control of the dog at the time simply passed the dog on to its previous owner. The dog was then no longer in the first person's ownership, and the police could not prosecute. They wrote to me saying :

"The contents of the letter are self-explanatory and you will see that unfortunately nothing further can be done. The new owner of the dog, who was also the previous owner, was not present when the attack occurred, and on hearing of the trouble retrieved the dog from Ali. There is no evidence to show that he does not keep the dog under proper control. Nor is there any suggestion that he is unfit to keep the dog. In the circumstances, it was considered inapproprite to take him to court when the owner and person responsible for the dog at the time of the attack was another person. I endorse the views of the Crown Prosecutor that it is unfortunate that no effective proceedings can be instituted against this person ... for the appalling injury caused by his dog."

With a dog registration scheme, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for such a person to say, "I am terribly sorry. Bad injuries have been caused. I pass the dog to somebody else and I am free from the danger of prosecution." That letter shows that that happens.

A dog registration scheme at one fell swoop would ensure that a long- standing piece of legislation, which has not been amended, would be put into operation. A young girl who has been scarred for life and who has needed plastic surgery would have the satisfaction of knowing that the same fate would not befall other people in the same circumstances.

As has been pointed out, registration would enable strays to be matched to their owners. That is important, for one of the most chilling comments of an RSPCA inspector at last week's meeting was that as circumstances

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such as adverse publicity caused the prices of certain breeds to drop--rottweilers being a good example--more strays were in evidence as people simply tipped their dogs on to the roads. Are we to accept the present situation, with American pit bull terriers being at large, wandering about streets on housing estates, and we cannot do anything about it because we cannot trace their owners? It is not true to say that in all accidents the owners are known. The economics of the situation should appeal to the Government. As prices drop, dogs and puppies are turned out on to the streets, and some of them are potentially highly dangerous breeds.

If the Secretary of State does not like the idea of local authorities raising the money, he can raise it centrally. We are here giving the right hon. Gentleman discretion--not something we would do lightly. On this occasion we are prepared to encourage him in the task. Wardens can educate, inform and help people understand their animals, so that the accidents which have received much publicity recently are not repeated.

In the BBC programme "Face the Facts" on 23 February 1989 a commentator interviewed a Mr. Keith Porter at the Birmingham accident hospital about a horrific accident, the details of which I will not relate. Apparently a rottweiler was being stroked by a small child through a fence. The boy was badly attacked and needed new skin on his damaged legs. The commentator said :

"As well as having to treat more and more victims of vicious dogs, the burden on the National Health Service weighs heavy in terms of cost."

I would have thought the Government would be seeking ways to reduce NHS expenditure.

The commentator continued :

"Last year around five million pounds. The latest figures for injuries show that in 1986 four people died as a result of dog bites, twelve hundred were treated as hospital in-patients, and in one metropolitan hospital surveyed at random, three per cent. of all those who visited the Accident and Emergency Department had been bitten by dogs."

There is a problem, and solving it will involve cost. It will not go away, and it is increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) gave a larger figure because he included all the costs in the use of public services for the problems raised by dogs, and those problems will not go away.

2 am

The Secretary of State said that the Bradford dog warden scheme is good, and employs five people at a modest cost. Let me tell him about the case of a headmaster in a primary school who took a small boy back home because he was ill. Of the three doberman pinschers at the house, one broke its chain and attacked the headmaster, breaking his arm and biting him badly. The dog was put down, but was immediately replaced by a rottweiler, so the family kept three dogs. In an adjacent house lived a young mother with an 18-month -old daughter. Every now and again, by accident or design, or as a result of carelessness, the dogs were released. When they were straying about, she was a prisoner in her house because she dared not go out with the child in case one of the dogss should pounce on them.

The mother would call the dog warden service, but on Sundays it was not staffed sufficiently well to enable it to round up so many dogs. There is no limit on the number

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of dogs that people can have, and these people chose to have three. Perhaps dog registration would cause them to think about the decisions that they take. They might have thought twice before replacing so rapidly the dog that had to be put down. The Secretary of State praises the Bradford service, but good though it is, it is not adequate to deal with those problems, although they arose from a family who were careless, incompetent and irresponsible in their ownership of dogs. Such situations are repeated elsewhere. The measures that the Secretary of State has announced do not have any matching facilities. In the example that he used--Bradford--the facilities are not adequate, and more is needed. An important step to start control of these problems and of the growing number of dangerous, ferocious and threatening dogs would be a dog registration scheme. I hope that the Secretary of State can understand that.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : I declare an interest as a member of the RSPCA and of the all-party animal welfare group, and as a vice-president of the London Wildlife Trust. I would like to think of myself as a friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes). It pains me to disagree with her as I think that she is one of the most courageous of people in dealing with animal welfare issues, and she has led many campaigns with which I agree. I agree with 99 out of 100 campaigns led by the RSPCA, but I disagree with it in this particular instance. It is sad that in this campaign irresponsibilities and inaccuracies have been made at great expense. When the RSPCA criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), I felt that that was close to heresy, for she is fragrant. It is also sad that the advertisements with pictures of the large number of dogs that have had to be destroyed by the RSPCA use figures and pictures that have been greatly exaggerated.

All the information that I use will come from a document that has been mentioned by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) sought honesty and integrity, and I hope to provide him with some, for the document from which I shall quote--and from which a large part of the hon. Gentleman's speech derived--is entitled "A summary of the report commissioned by the RSPCA (1989)" by the London School of Economics and Political Science. Other hon. Members also quoted that document, but not page 3, and those who referred obliquely to page 3, which deals with the cost of the scheme, did not do so accurately.

It is true that in 1988 dog ownership in the United Kingdom totalled 7.3 million--an increase of 500,000 over 1987. It is true also that the figure is likely to continue increasing, and that the LSE stated that compulsory registration and identification is an essential part of any solution. However, no hon. Member mentioned the LSE's finding that

"There are about 500,000 dogs loose in the streets or countryside every day. Evidence from dog wardens shows that less than half of these dogs are lost. Many of the straying dogs are latchkey' dogs. These dogs are allowed by their owners to roam the streets, fouling pavements, playing fields and parks, and contributing to many road accidents. Some of them cause injury to humans, or savage other pets and farm livestock. There is at present no law in Great Britain to prevent owners from letting dogs stray."

I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member disagrees with the LSE's other finding :

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"About 240,000 stray dogs are taken to the police station each year by wardens and others, and officially recorded with the police as strays."

The summary adds that a further 250,000 strays are identified by wardens and returned directly to their owners without being recorded by the police. That makes a total of 500,000 strays. The summary adds :

"About 60,000 of the recorded strays are claimed by their owners." Therefore, responsible owners who lose their dogs will bother to claim them, but I wonder how many would do so if their dogs were not registered and they were under an obligation to pay a registration charge as a condition of reclaiming their dogs. The summary continues :

"Others are not traced within the seven days and the dogs must be kept in the pound About 90,000 unclaimed strays are found new homes by the animal shelters."

I wonder whether, with registration, that figure of 90,000 would reduce because of the extra cost involved. It would certainly not increase, because at present there is no registration charge to the new owner, apart from a voluntary payment to the shelter. The summary continues :

"The remaining 90,000 unclaimed strays have to be destroyed each year to make room in the shelter for new strays."

If those figures are accurate, about 250 dogs are destroyed every day on the basis of a seven-day week, or 280 per day in a six-day week--not the 1,000 per day mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). In any event, the photograph in the RSPCA advertisement was a collage of the same dogs, as was subsequently admitted.

Mr. Gale : My hon. Friend gives the figure for animal shelters only, whereas the RSPCA's statistics relate to dogs destroyed by the RSPCA, by the police, and by others.

Mr. Hanley : I am merely quoting from the information which has been sent to hon. Members in order that they may balance their arguments.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : The information given by the RSPCA states that it has to put down 131,000 animals of all kinds per year. The figure of 1,000 per day therefore covers other organisations.

Mr. Hanley : That is most interesting and goes a long way towards confirming what I was saying-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) says that it does not. His contribution showed that not only are there dangers normally when he thinks, but that when he thinks on his feet and opens his mouth, he puts his foot right in it. When he talked about guide dogs for the blind he was corrected and told that they were registered anyway. He may have known that--if he did, I will give him credit for it--but he then said that pensioners should be exempt from registration.

Dr. Cunningham : We are asking the Secretary of State. I said that they would be exempt from paying the fee.

Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman said that they would be exempt from registration. [Hon. Members :-- "No."] When I heard him, I immediately thought that they should be exempt from the fee, which has always been designed within the registration process, but not that they should be exempt from registration. If, when I read the debate tomorrow, I find that I am wrong, I will willingly apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

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Dr. Cunningham : We need not argue about it. The point was made by the Patronage Secretary from a sedentary position that pensioners would not be able to afford the cost. I said that they could be exempt from the cost, not the registration.

Mr. Hanley : I will willingly check that in the morning and I will willingly apologise if necessary, but I heard what I heard. I wish to pose a few questions. How will registration deal with the irresponsible, lazy, ignorant or unaware dog owner, or with the deliberate law breaker-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) says, "You track him down". We track down the dog owners, whose details are on a register only if they have registered their dogs. Those who choose to register their dogs are the responsible ones. I cannot see how this scheme would help the irresponsible, the ignorant, those who are unaware of the legislation or those who deliberately break the law. Those are the people with whom we should be dealing, but we cannot do that by imposing charges which would deter them further.

I wish to place in context the level of charges contained in the document produced by the LSE. The figures of £65 and £15 have been mentioned. When the hon. Member for Truro talked about honesty and integrity, he did not mention the charges. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Drake did not mention the charges set out within the document. I will give them fully because they are important. A one-off payment would be £57, or £66 including a tattoo.

Dame Janet Fookes : I specifically said in my opening speech that the fees and the arrangements could vary depending on the type of scheme in operation but that in the short time available wanted to argue for the principle rather than go into the details of the schemes. It is therefore unfair to suggest that I did not give those details when I explained why I was not doing so.

Mr. Hanley : In no way did I want to give the impression that I believed that my hon. Friend had deliberately left out that information. I hope that she will be pleased that I shall give the information in my speaking time because some of my constituents changed their minds as soon as they heard the figures, which were £57 for the one-off payment or £66 with tattooing, which was regarded by the LSE as essential. It may be tattooing or the permanent fixture of, perhaps, an electrical tag under the skin. In either case, £66 is the figure that we should consider, or a charge of £23, including tattooing, coupled with a £7 annual fee. We have heard that reminders would have to be sent to people which would further increase the cost.

A discount is given for neutered dogs, which are much less of a problem when loose. The registration fee might be £25 for all dogs, with an annual renewal fee of £8 for neutered dogs and £20 for all other dogs. That means that when a dog has a litter the owner will have to register each dog and pay the one-off or first-time charge. If he does not want to do that, he will have to get rid of the dogs, which means finding people prepared to pay £65 or £23 in addition to any charge for the dogs. I would hope that in those circumstances there would be no charge for the dog. It would be extremely difficult to find people prepared to make those payments. The proposed scheme would further persuade people to put down unwanted litters. I

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believe that if the scheme were introduced, there would be mass extermination of dogs whose owners did not wish to register them. That would be wrong.


Registration will not curb the bad or natural behaviour of dogs. The hon. Member for Bradford, South referred to a number of instances where dogs have savaged human beings and caused injury, but not once did he say that the owner of the dog could not be identified. Of course individuals should be responsible for the actions of their dogs, but registration will not improve identification of the individual. The hon. Member for Bradford, South said that in each instance to which he referred the owner had been identified. There should be a direct responsibility upon an owner for any injuries caused by his dog, but registration will not achieve that. It will simply introduce an additional inconvenience for responsible dog owners.

Registration will not stop dogs fouling public places. One of the most dangerous and disgusting features of dog ownership--I have been a dog owner for most of my life, but I am not one at present--is the fact that dogs foul public places, and all too often their owners ignore the obvious. We see dog owners with dogs on leads walking along the pavements of domestic side roads with their dogs fouling behind them. The owners look in the opposite direction as if it is not happening, but as soon as the fouling has stopped, they pat their dog and say, "Good dog." They know what has happened and they also know where it has happened. Pavements, grass verges, parks and school playing fields are not dog lavatories, but registration will not end that problem because there will never be enough wardens to police every field, park and playing field.

It is the responsible dog owner who would suffer if the registration scheme were introduced. The irresponsible owner would continue to ignore his responsibilities. The main sufferers would be the dogs that were put down because irresponsible owners refused to identify them. They would refuse to do so in the knowledge that they would be fined as soon as the dog was relocated with them. Irresponsible people would deny the existence of their dogs. I acknowledge that the RSPCA is a most responsible body, and I understand that the scheme will be supported by the millions who condone the society's actions, but that does not make registration right. If a Government were to introduce a compulsory scheme with charges at the proposed levels, they would pay dearly for so doing. If a Government cannot introduce moderate and reasonable reforms of the National Health Service, what will happen to any Government who introduce the compulsory registration of dogs? Perhaps Opposition Members are so keen that the Government should introduce an unpopular scheme that they are prepared to support the RSPCA's scheme.

Mr. Rogers : I am sorry that this has become a combative debate. I do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) that the Government are on trial. The fact is that a problem exists and that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to discuss it.

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I am sorry that, in a sense, dogs are on trial. I say that as a dog lover. The relationship between a dog and its owner is a long-standing one. We have talked for many years about dogs being man's best friend. The relationship of dogs with a family is important. However, many dogs are out of control, and it is clear that they need to be brought under control.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) illustrated the problem in clear terms. He referred to dogs getting into school playgrounds and to the difficulty of identifying the owners of the dogs. Unless the owners of the dogs can be identifed, there will always be a problem.

A dog registration scheme, either national or local, needs to be implemented. The relationship between the owner and the dog must be established. It is not the Government who are on trial. Hon. Members are on trial. We must grow up and tackle the problem. It is not the £60 million or £70 million that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) mentioned that is important. It is the children who are being mutilated by dogs that are not kept under control who are important. Until that relationship between a dog and its owner is established, we shall be failing in our duty.

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North) : I support the establishment of a dog registration scheme, but it would not solve all the problems that are associated with dogs.

I welcome the announcement tonight by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but I want to go into the reasons why there are so many vicious dogs. The public need to be educated about the types of dog that they purchase. Many people do not realise that they may be purchasing a potentially dangerous dog.

There should also be a proper licensing of breeders. For far too long there has been too much interbreeding, especially of vicious dogs. [Interruption.] When I talk about interbreeding I am referring to mothers and sons-- [Interruption.] It is a serious problem. It is one of the reasons why dogs are vicious. Interbreeding causes serious problems.

We should license the breeder. The law stipulates that two or more breeding bitches should be registered, but that does not happen. We should put that right. We should also deal with puppy farms. Thirty or 40 bitches may be breeding at any given time. The puppies are sent to London and to other large conurbations. When people go to pet shops they cannot find the kind of dog they want. Dogs are often incorrectly described. We should license both breeders and the owners of pet shops. We might then stand a chance of controlling the sale of vicious breeds of dogs.

Vicious dogs are to be found in other countries as well. It has been a dramatic problem in the United States of America for some years on account of vicious doberman pinschers, pit bull terriers, other types of bull terriers and rottweilers. Certain individuals want to own a particularly vicious type of dog. The danger is that these individuals deliberately train their dogs to be vicious. That is borne out by the immense increase in illegal dog fighting using Staffordshire bull terriers. Five Staffordshire bull terriers have been stolen in my constituency during the last five weeks. I am convinced, as are the owners and other people, that the dogs were stolen to be trained for dog fighting. A number of British people are participating in this revolting sport.

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I declare an interest. For two years, I have had two Staffordshire bull terriers. That kind of dog behaves properly if it is brought up properly. Vicious breeds can be trained to be vicious. Sadly, some breeds are falling into the wrong hands. That is part of the trouble. I should like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that licences are required to import pit bull terriers from America so that we know exactly who has them and where they are going. That would alleviate some of the problems.

The other day, I heard that a pit bull terrier which had been imported from America and lived on an estate in south London had bitten three policemen and generally caused havoc on the estate. Finally, the RSPCA took the dog off the estate, only to have its officers told as they were leaving that the dog had had puppies 10 weeks before which had been given away to people all around the estate.

The problems will be resolved not just by registration but by a combination of measures. There must be dog registration to deal with strays and with the other problems that hon. Members have described.

Mr. Tony Banks : Like others, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) for her campaigns on behalf not only of dogs but of animals generally. We owe her a great debt. I shall support new clause 34, but we need to go further. It is only a start. We have argued for a proper licence scheme to enable local authorities to get the funds necessary to run adequate dog warden schemes and help pay for the various "poop" schemes--I cannot think of a better expression--that are run by local authorities. Westminster city council has been running a dog mess clearing scheme. Paris has an effective scheme as well.

Such schemes need substantial resources, which can come only from a substantial dog licence scheme. They could help to pay for education courses in schools and among dog owners. Many responsible owners know little about dog ownership. With a properly funded dog licence scheme, money could be provided for the training of owners so that they looked after their dogs more adequately.

As one who comes from the East End of London, I know that many dogs are kept not as pets but as cheap burglar alarms. Dogs are used as protection against our increasingly violent society. People deliberately opt for the large, exotic and savage dog. If one wants to deter people from breaking into one's house, there is not much point in having a chihuahua, a poodle or a pekinese. One will choose a dog that will frighten people away. These savage dogs are a manifestation of Thatcherism. I was going to say that I could not think of a dog more appropriate to Thatcherism than a rottweiler, but I would not want to insult rottweilers because they are rather nice and loving dogs--the problem is with the owners.

We have been considering the Bill for two days. When we started the debate on new clause 34, the House was packed. When we were talking about the dramatic rent increases that council tenants will have to face in years to come and about housing conditions, there was hardly a Conservative Member here. Yet the House suddenly fills with Members wanting to hear the Secretary of State rambling on like some weird old looney about a scheme that, quite frankly, can be described only as a dog's breakfast.

Yesterday the House was full to hear statements about hazelnut yoghurt. I do not know what this House is

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coming to ; it is far more interested in hazelnut yoghurt and dogs than in people. That is a very sad comment. Although the new clause is to be welcomed, I should like Conservative Members to show a little more interest in the needs of people--especially those on low incomes living on council estates and elsewhere in inner cities--and a little less concern for attention-grabbing debates which do not deal with the real problems of the people of this country.

2.30 am

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : In January 1985, the European Parliament addressed itself to the question of tattooing dogs' ears in pursuance of a dog registration scheme. I drew the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to that and asked her to confirm that this country would have nothing to do with it. She replied : "I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. I hope that the European Assembly has something better to do with its time than that."--[ Official Report, 22 January 1985 ; Vol. 71, c. 858.]

My right hon. Friend was right then and she would be right now if she were to repeat her contempt for that debate in the European Assembly.

None of us should be surprised that there is such enthusiasm among Opposition Members for a dog registration scheme. It would mean the creation of public sector jobs, something much beloved of Opposition Members. If I thought for one moment that a dog registration scheme would solve the problems that have been enumerated at length this evening, of irresponsible owners with badly trained dogs, I would support it. Whatever sort of registration scheme might be put in place, the responsible owner will register, pay whatever fee is demanded of him, look after his dog and ensure that it does not stray and behave in an irresponsible and anti- social manner. The irresponsible dog owner, however, will continue with his usual stewardship of his dog and allow it to roam free and unregistered, doing what it wants. The attacks during recent weeks have involved dogs of the sort kept by those who simply would not register them, whatever the law. I shall have no difficulty in opposing the new clause.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North) : The fact that there is no simple solution to the problems posed by dogs in society is not a good reason to reject any components of the complex solution necessary. The measures announced by the Department of the Environment and the Home Department are all welcome, but they will not, by themselves, solve the problems. No one who supports the idea of a dog registration scheme suggests that, even with an adequate fee, it would alone solve the problems. It is part of a complex solution to a complex problem.

The essential component is a national registration scheme to complement the detailed knowledge of local authorities on such matters as areas from which dogs should be excluded, such as playgrounds for very young children, and places where dogs should be kept on leads, such as beaches. Contributions can be made locally, but there needs to be a national registration scheme because dogs are easily transported from one place to another and it is quite wrong to place the burden of dealing with the problems on the local authorities alone.

Any scheme must be adequately financed. If it is not to be entirely financed by dog owners, national funds must be made available to local authorities so that they can operate a proper scheme. It is not reasonable for the House to call

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for legislation but not provide adequate finance. Hon. Members who are advocating a dog registration scheme must call upon owners to pay a dog licence fee and must accept that there will be a cost to the national or local taxpayer.

The problem is complex, so we must have a range of responses to it. I believe that we should have a national dog registration scheme, and the new clause gives us an opportunity to provide one.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West) : One of the advantages of speaking down the batting order is that one does not need to go over the ground too deeply for the second or third time. Sensing the mood of the House, I say at once that I welcome the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which recognise that solid solutions are necessary to allay the concerns of my constituents, and follow, almost word for word, the leader article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. No doubt the clairvoyant qualities of the reporter will be rewarded by its editor in due course. Even if my right hon. Friend had not made his proposals, I would have opposed the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes). I do not doubt her sincerity or the amount of work that she has done on the subject, but she was a little shy about the cost of the scheme. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) fully recognised the point about the impact of the scheme on pensioners, the unemployed or the person who needs a dog for company.

I am unhappy about the way in which the RSPCA ran its campaign. It thought that badgering Members would cause them to change their minds because they would receive more and more letters.

A registration scheme would create a layer of bureaucracy, with all the paraphernalia of enforcement, snooping, rights of access and persecution, but for what purpose? It will not make irresponsible owners responsible. Only responsible owners will register, but it is the irresponsible ones we are after. Enforcement is needed, and registration will not make bad owners responsible.

A bite by a dog, whether it is registered or not, will still be painful. The job is to catch that dog and then pursue the legal processes. The Government's proposals, coupled with existing provisions, will provide a positive solution and I hope that the House will support them.

Mr. Devlin : I support the new clause because the ownership of dogs is far too casually entered into. Twenty-eight per cent. of households in Britain own a dog, and the number of dogs increased by 500,000 last year to 7.3 million. About 250,000 people were injured last year by dog bites, which is 700 a day. We cannot permit such a number of vicious dogs.

We should be trying to find a system of controlling the number of dogs, and I believe that registration will do so. Under the new system, any dog that does not have a licence should be destroyed, which would solve the problem.

Mr. Ridley : I will not reply to all the many points raised in this interesting and constructive debate. However, I will study a number of suggestions made by my hon. Friends

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and other hon. Members as we prepare the legislation to put my announcement into practice. There has been general agreement, with degrees of enthusiasm, about the three sets of measures I proposed, about the need for local authorities to have wardens and about the vital need for identification of dogs in enforcing the powers we shall give to local authorities.

The dispute has been over how to pay for that service. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins), in which he asked whether it would be right to ask only parents to pay for education, underlined the argument about whether we should have a hypothecated tax or whether the revenue should come from general taxation. It would be nice if we could charge only the irresponsible dog owners for the service, just as it would be nice if we could charge only very bad and dangerous drivers for the cost of road accidents. If we propose to put the cost only on good drivers or only on good dog owners, the case is made for paying for the service out of general revenues. As the dog registration scheme is so complicated, bureaucratic and expensive to administer, the House should conclude that it should adopt my proposals and not proceed to the dog registration scheme.

Dame Janet Fookes : Although I welcome some of the points put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I do not regard them as a substitute for a well-organised dog registration scheme. Most, if not all, of his suggestions depend on being able accurately to pinpoint the owner of the dog. That is where the registration system comes in. The new clause does not insist on a particular form. I described the type of scheme that I should like to see, but if the new clause is passed, it would be left to the Secretary of State to come forward with a scheme after whatever consultations he wishes to make. Nobody is being committed to a particular formula this evening. Having said that, I am anxious to move to a vote. This is an important measure. It is not a panacea for all ills, but a very important step forward.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 146, Noes 159.

Divison No. 244] [2.42 am


Abbott, Ms Diane

Aitken, Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Allason, Rupert

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beckett, Margaret

Beith, A. J.

Bendall, Vivian

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes

Bradley, Keith

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buckley, George J.

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Cartwright, John

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Dr John

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Devlin, Tim

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Dover, Den

Eastham, Ken

Evans, John (St Helens N)

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