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Dangerous Dogs Bill (Allocation of Time)

3.44 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I beg to move

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Dangerous Dogs Bill--

Second Reading 1. The proceedings on Second Reading shall be completed at this day's sitting and shall be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock.

Committee 2. (1) In Committee, proceedings on any new Clauses relating to the registration of dogs shall be taken before proceedings on the Clauses.

(2) Proceedings in Committee on new Clauses relating to the registration of dogs shall be brought to a conclusion at1 a.m. at this day's sitting.

(3) The remaining proceedings in Committee shall be completed at this day's sitting and shall be brought to a conclusion at 3 a.m. Report and Third Reading 3. The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at this day's sitting and shall be brought to a conclusion at 4 a.m.

Conclusion of proceedings in Committee 4. On the conclusion of the proceedings in Committee the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question and if he reports the Bill with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill, as amended, without any Question being put.

Order of proceedings 5. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which proceedings in Committee or on consideration are taken.

Dilatory Motions 6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings at this day's sitting shall be made except by a Minister of the Crown, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

Extra time 7. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings at this day's sitting. Conclusion of proceedings 8.--(1) This paragraph applies in relation to any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order at this day's sitting.

(2) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)--

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair ;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill) ;

(c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment is moved or Motion is made by a Minister of the Crown ;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded ;

and on a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

(3) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (2) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

(4) If a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings which, under this

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Order are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

Supplemental orders 9.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion moved in the House by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

(2) If at this day's sitting the House is adjourned, or if this day's sitting is suspended, before the time at which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order. Saving 10. Nothing in this Order shall--

(a) prevent any proceedings to which this Order applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by this Order ; or (

(b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.

Recommital 11.--(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings at those stages, respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommital.

(2) No debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.

Business Committee 12. Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) shall not apply to this Order.

I can explain quite briefly why the Government have tabled this timetable motion for the Dangerous Dogs Bill, as well as outline how it provides for proceedings on the Bill today to be conducted. I shall not say much about the substance of the Bill--that will be for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in subsequent speeches.

I made it clear in the course of Business Questions last Thursday, when I announced the timetable motion, why the Government consider it essential to get this Bill through its Commons stages as quickly as possible. Our constituents, the country as a whole, but, most of all, those who have been affected by the menace of fighting dogs, or who go in fear of them, would not forgive us if we failed to get legislation to control those deadly animals in place at the earliest possible opportunity.

The House knows that, following the consultation paper published in June last year, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had made it clear that he would be bringing forward proposals this summer--that is, of course, in relation to other than fighting dogs. It obviously makes sense now to include in the Bill the new offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place, and the power for the courts to specify measures, including muzzling, to be taken to control any dog considered likely to be dangerous. The Bill also provides, in clause 2, additional reserve powers for the Secretary of State to deal with other types of dog that present a serious danger to the public. But it is for the provisions on pit bull terriers and other fighting dogs in clause 1 that speed is so necessary. We intend that almost all the criminal offences should come into force very quickly after the Bill becomes law. Once the Bill is enacted, it will be an offence to breed those

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dogs, sell them, give them away, advertise them for sale or exchange or as a gift, abandon them, or let them stray. It will be an offence not to have those dogs on a lead and muzzled. It will also be an offence to allow any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place.

Those are vital parts of the Bill which we need to have in place for the summer, particularly in relation to breeding and having the dogs on a lead and muzzled. That is fully set out in clause 1(2). The Bill therefore needs to pass through all its stages if we are to achieve that by the summer recess.

It is also essential that we put in place as quickly as possible the compensation and exemption schemes so that owners who wish to have their dogs put down and seek compensation and those who wish to retain their dogs, subject to very strict conditions, should be able to do that before the offence of possessing a prohibited dog comes into force on 30 November.

Indeed, I suspect that many members of the public who do not understand the technicalities of these matters may be puzzled and concerned as to why they have to wait that long--till 30 November--before the full provisions of the Bill are in place relating to the putting down of all dogs not licensed, the neutering of those that are licensed, and public protection and compensation through insurance.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Of course, the Government could have acted earlier. Is not it unique for a guillotine motion to be moved by the Government when there is very broad support for the Bill on Opposition Benches? In itself, that is a unique measure. Is not the truth--if the Leader of the House really wishes to be honest about it--that he fears that there is growing support on his side, as well as, obviously, on this side, for a dog registration scheme, which, for some odd reason, the Government are refusing to support?

Mr. MacGregor : I shall refer briefly to the dog registration aspect in relation to the guillotine in a moment, but the detailed issues of dog registration are for a later debate. I will certainly deal with that matter in a moment, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that this is a unique measure and that it has support across the House. That is an important point which I shall address in a moment in relation to the timetable motion.

Mr. Winnick : The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. What I said was that it was unique for the Government to introduce a guillotine motion when there is broad support for the Bill.

Mr. MacGregor : All right. To take up exactly the hon. Gentleman's point, I am grateful that he regards it that way. However, as I shall make clear in a moment, even if there is widespread support for the Bill throughout the House, a timetable motion is necessary if we are to achieve the timetable for the implementation of the Bill that I have outlined. I shall come to that issue at the appropriate point in my remarks.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : As the Home Secretary wants to rush this Bill through, and as people out there with pit bull terriers have told Members of Parliament, including myself, that they cannot get insurance for their dogs, will the Leader of the House have a word with the Home Secretary? If there will not be much time to debate the matter, before the Leader of the House sits down he

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ought, having had a word with the Home Secretary, to tell the House, in the short time available, which insurance firms are prepared to take on the insurance of these dogs. People out there want to know.

Mr. MacGregor : That is a fair point, but I do not believe that it is one for the timetable motion. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will deal with that matter. There will be plenty of time during the proceedings later today for him to do so, and I am sure that he will.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : My right hon. Friend is appealing to the members of the public, many of whom will be unable to understand why the legislation cannot come into force immediately. Is it not both his and the Government's job to explain to those many members of the public that legislation is best conducted slowly and by the normal rules, and also to explain that that is the way in which the interests of minorities who are affected are best safeguarded?

Mr. MacGregor : I hope to come shortly to that passage in my speech which explains exactly why we are endeavouring to get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible, which I am confident is what the public want, and yet provide enough time for debate to ensure that those interests are safeguarded.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : While the Leader of the House goes about explaining all this, will he also tell the general public why it was that, when the provisions that are in front of the House today were in front of the House in March 1990, the Government voted them down ? If there is such great enthusiasm for this Bill, why did the Government not support the amendment to the Environmental Protection Bill that would have met all the demands that are now included in this Bill ?

Mr. MacGregor : I think that we are now getting to the substance of the Bill. These are certainly points that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will happily take up on Second Reading. I am anxious to stick to explaining the urgency of the Bill and the manner in which we are endeavouring to achieve its implementation, not to go over all the details of the Bill. That, I believe, would be self-defeating.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : Although I recognise the need for speed, I called on the Government to ban the import of pit bull terriers eight years ago. It is a pity that they did not take my advice at that time. Although we recognise the need for speed, it is essential that the Bill should become an effective instrument. A number of people have observed deficiences in it--for example, one in clause 4 that needs to be put right. The need for speed should not remove the need for accuracy in legislation that we pass in this place.

Mr. MacGregor : I had hoped to deal with that point also at the appropriate place in my argument, but let me deal with it now. There will be opportunities in the House, during what will effectively be a two-day debate, to deal with all these issues. All the amendments are in front of us. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has gone through them all. There will also be opportunities in the other place. Furthermore, if necessary, the Bill can return to this place.

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Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Will the Leader of the House give way ?

Mr. MacGregor : Before I give way again--I have done so very generously--may I finish the point that I was raising ?

Many members of the public may well be puzzled and concerned about why we have to wait until 30 November before those parts of the Bill that relate to the putting down of dogs and to the introduction of the new system for fighting dogs are in place. Of course, the House understands why we must wait until 30 November--

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor : If I may, I shall finish my argument first. To many people, when they know that these fighting dogs will still be around, 30 November looks a long time away. I do not know what position the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) took when the dogs were first allowed to be imported, but that was when the pass was sold. It was a considerable time ago, under a previous Government. Two points are worth spelling out in detail so that everyone, not only in the House but in the country, fully appreciates the need for speed. Here I wish to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen).

First, there must be a reasonable period for owners to make their decisions about the alternative course of action that they wish to pursue, then to complete the necessary procedures. That period can begin only when Royal Assent has been achieved. This is based on the assumption that Royal Assent will be given by the summer--hence the need to get Royal Assent as quickly as possible. Otherwise, these provisions may not be in place until the end of February next year. I believe that we would be open to justifiable criticism--

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : The right hon. Gentleman does not believe a word of it.

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand. These are simple, straightforward facts. This is the basis on which the decision has been taken. If the House of Commons and the other place decided to adopt these measures as a protection for the public, we would be open to justifiable criticism if we subjected innocent citizens to the risk of further serious injury for those additional months.

That brings me to the second point : why is it necessary to timetable the Bill this week to meet the deadline of achieving Royal Assent by the summer recess? As I worked the timetable back, it became clear to me that it was necessary to get the Bill to the House of Lords before the end of this week. The reason for that is that it would not be possible to abbreviate the customary procedures in the House of Lords. Given also the possibility- -which I must take into account--of further exchanges between the House of Lords and the House of Commons after the Lords have completed their consideration of the Bill, that target of passing the Bill effectively sets itself, if we are to be sure of meeting the target of Royal Assent by the summer recess.

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Mr. Richard Shepherd : Has my right hon. Friend taken note of the fact that his arguments almost perfectly match those on the Football Spectators Bill? We were told that there was an imperative need to pass that Bill or terrible things would happen. A monkey was made of the House. Should we not treat this Bill a little more cautiously than my right hon. Friend has suggested?

Mr. MacGregor : If my hon. Friend does not want the Bill to be passed, he can advance his arguments against aspects of it on Second Reading and in Committee. He seems to be doubtful whether we should consider the Bill quickly. I believe that that is not the view that the country will take, that it wants the measure put on the statute book quickly. What is more--

Mr. Harry Ewing rose--

Mr. MacGregor : Let me finish this point.

It was clear during questions on several business statements that I have made in recent weeks, particularly in the exchanges last Thursday, that the Bill has the support of everyone in the House. That is an important aspect of the Bill.

Mr. Ewing : Is the Leader of the House aware that I am angry at the fact that he chose 30 November as the implementation date of the Bill? Is he aware that that is St. Andrew's day? The Home Secretary has made such a dog's breakfast of this issue that we should implement the Bill on his birthday, if only to commemorate his ineptitude and incompetence.

Mr. MacGregor : As one who attended St. Andrew's university, I regard that as a feeble point. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman might be pleased that everything to ensure the protection of the public would be in operation by that date.

Mr. Budgen : Does my right hon. Friend realise that the constant appeals to popular opinion will stick in some of our throats? Is it not his job to explain to popular opinion that the normal legislative procedures give safeguards to everybody who might be concerned, especially in this case, where there is the strong suspicion that the Government might be legislating simply as a result of pressure from popular newspapers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that there should be a proper gap between Second Reading and Committee stage, so that those who have seen the Government change their position on many occasions will have a proper opportunity to put forward their views and to explain why the Government may be wrong in some details?

Mr. MacGregor : By being as quick as I can, I hope that I shall be able to give my hon. Friend and the other hon. Members who wish to explain their views the opportunity to do so. I totally reject the view that the Bill has been introduced in response to pressure from some popular newspapers. It has been introduced in response to widespread public concern, which is totally shared by all members of the Government, at some of the recent incidents in which innocent people have been injured by pit bull terriers. As a party to the introduction of the Bill and being strongly in favour of it, I have been motivated by the thought that more innocent people--children and adults--might be--

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) rose

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Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) rose--

Hon. Members : Sit.

Mr. MacGregor : I thought that we might hear something like that today.

We have a duty to protect the public from fighting dogs. We can all think of what could happen to innocent citizens. Given that that is the decision that we have reached, it seems right to proceed with the Bill speedily, so that we can achieve our objective of protecting the public. That is not only the view of some popular newspapers ; it is widespread in the House.

Mr. Michael J. Martin rose--

Mr. Lewis rose--

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) rose

Mr. MacGregor : Although I must get on, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who has not yet intervened.

Mr. Maclennan : Does not the Leader of the House recognise that his argument about the need to have the matter concluded before the summer recess would carry some credibility if he had approached the Opposition parties about a sensible timetable motion, instead of simply tabling something without any consultation? The only approach to my party concerned the sensitive question of registration and our attitude to it.

Mr. MacGregor : The Government had to take into account the timetable that I am still outlining. So far, I have dealt only with the point about protecting the public from attacks by fighting dogs. I have two other points to make in relation--

Mr. Michael J. Martin rose --

Mr. Lewis rose --

Mr. MacGregor : I must be allowed to answer. I am halfway through a sentence in response to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. If hon. Members continue to interrupt my speech, I shall not give way to them, because they are being most unfair. I have two other points to make about the need for speed.

In the timetable motion, we have responded to the desire not only of the Opposition but of many hon. Members for another debate on dog registration and have taken that desire fully into account. However, when engaging in discussions with all concerned about not having any timetable motion, I have also had to bear in mind the fact that we all know of the risk that it might not be possible to ensure that everything that has been agreed between the usual channels will be adhered to unless we have a timetable motion. I have been trying to meet what I know are the wishes of the House, while also achieving speed. As we do not want to spend all our time on this point, perhaps I can now be allowed to get on with the arguments with which I should like to finish my speech.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. MacGregor : I am not giving way for the moment. I am sorry, but I must get on.

Several Hon. Members rose --

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Mr. Speaker : Order. As a great many hon. Members wish to participate in the Second Reading debate, it might be helpful if we could now get on.

Mr. MacGregor : There are further reasons why speed is essential. There is clearly a danger that those involved in the breeding of fighting dogs may seek to make the maximum use of any time that remains before the Bill reaches the statute book, so we want the Bill to be enacted as soon as possible, before there are large numbers of additional prohibited dogs.

Another more technical reason for speed concerns the import ban. As the House knows, an import ban on these fighting dogs was introduced when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his statement to the House. Maintaining an import ban without a corresponding domestic ban would place us in breach of our international obligations. We must therefore underwrite the import ban by putting the domestic controls in place as soon as possible.

Those who sit on the Opposition Front Bench have said that they will co- operate in getting the Bill through the House quickly to meet the deadline to which I have already referred. That, however, does not guarantee the necessary speed. Even if most hon. Members say that they will co-operate in dealing with the Bill speedily, and those who have spoken so far have taken that view, the Government must be sure, in the interests of protecting the public, that the House as a whole meets the deadline.

Moreover, we have other vital business to get through this week, and a Supply day. We have a commitment to the Opposition, and to the House in general, to the number of Supply days in the Session, and I need to find regular time to fulfil the commitment. I have been making it clear to the House for some time that we have a great deal of business to complete before we can rise for the summer recess. As it is, I can hold out no prospect of the House rising as early as I have sometimes seen suggested in the press.

As for the arguments that the timetable motion will prevent adequate time for debate on the Bill, the fact is that the motion provides for broadly the equivalent of two days to consider the Bill. I believe that that achieves the right balance between speed to meet our deadline and the time which would be required, as suggested in the discussions that we have had through the usual channels, to cover the Bill's provisions in sufficient detail. The timetable motion thus provides a reasonable amount of time overall for the various stages of the Bill's consideration.

It may help hon. Members if I briefly explain the motion's main provisions. Paragraph 1 provides for Second Reading to end at 10 pm. In line with the procedure motion agreed by the House last Thursday, the money resolution that is necessary for the Bill may then be considered. Under normal Standing Orders, that is exempted business for a maximum of 45 minutes, but time not spent on the money resolution will present additional time for consideration in Committee.

Paragraph 2(3) provides for consideration in Committee to conclude at 3 am, so we have provided for a reasonable amount of time to debate the amendments that have been tabled. We have been told already--the point has already been made by more than one hon. Member--that the Bill has broad all -party support, and it has been made clear that most hon. Members are keen to

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expedite discussion. With the timetable motion, we have provided a framework within which that discussion can take place.

The Opposition made it clear that they expected a debate on dog registration, and we have specifically provided for it. Other hon. Members have said that they want the issue debated, and that is a further reason why we have made separate provision for it in the terms of the timetable motion. Paragraphs 2(1) and (2) make separate provision for new clauses on dog registration.

I must make it clear, however, that the Government's view of dog registration has not changed. The Bill is designed to control and, with the passage of time, eliminate from our society fighting dogs, which represent an unacceptable menace to innocent people. For this purpose, and for the additional controls on dogs of other types which show themselves to be a serious danger to the public, dog registration is irrelevant. The Bill is about eliminating fighting dogs from our society, not about registering them.

Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman (Lancaster) : Admittedly, the Bill is about dangerous dogs. We all accept that they are dangerous to human beings, and we want to eliminate them. We want also, however, to have some control over animals that are a menace to livestock, and a dog registration scheme would help farmers in dealing with the problem of sheep worrying.

Mr. MacGregor : I do not believe that to be true. What matters are controls on fighting dogs, dangerous dogs and individual dogs, and that is what the Bill is about. There are many instances in which dogs of the sort to which my hon. Friend refers would not be registered. I do not see the relevance of registration. I am saying, however, that the timetable motion allows reasonable time for yet another discussion of the issue.

We have debated dog registration several times during this Parliament. It was debated by both Houses when they considered the Local Government Act 1988. Last year, in the context of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, it was debated twice in this place and twice in another place. I do not think that there are any grounds for complaint that insufficient time has been given to the issue in the House, and we are providing for it specifically again today.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does the Leader of the House accept that the complaint is not about a lack of debate in the past, but that this Parliament passed an amendment to section 37 of the Local Government Act 1988 empowering the Government to act on producing a dog registration scheme? The powers have been consistently ignored from the moment that the Minister responsible said that, even if Parliament accepted the amendment, he would be ignoring those powers. That is outrageous. Hence our concern for a dog registration scheme.

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