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Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): May I take my hon. Friend back to Hampstead heath, where I often walked my dog when I was a boy, and draw his attention to its considerable areas of woodland? It is not his intention that the Bill should exclude areas such as Hampstead heath, but would its woodland be excluded by the Bill?

Mr. Hunter: The Bill states that woodland is excluded. Woodland is woodland wherever the wood may be. Such areas would be specifically excluded.

Mr. Jenkin: It is much as I feared. While some parts of Hampstead heath are barren and open, and the natural ecosystem would work as my hon. Friend described, its woodlands--especially those around Kenwood house--are densely walked as recreational areas. Would there be no offence of dog fouling in those areas? Is that not a shortcoming of the Bill?

Mr. Hunter: I take my hon. Friend's point. I do not have his intimate knowledge of the woods of Hampstead heath, but my Bill is aimed primarily at the urban environment. Where, as in Hampstead heath, there is a more rural, natural environment in a greater urban area, and there is woodland, the exemption stands.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): One of the reasons that I am here to listen to my hon. Friend the

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Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) is that part of my constituency lies in a national park. I am anxious about removing the exemption for land in national parks, because sheep, equine and other agricultural animals as well as dogs may trespass from the countryside into semi-urban areas. I wonder whether my hon. Friend's Bill will be enforceable where a national park rural area dovetails with or is part of an urban area. Many dogs, some of which are used for agricultural purposes as he said, are free to roam in such areas. Is he wise to seek to withdraw that exemption?

Mr. Hunter: The rural parts of a national park are covered by the Bill. I took the national parks exemption out because of the villages and towns in the midst of some of them. I wanted them to have the benefit of the Bill. The more rural parts of national parks are covered by the categories that deal with land that is "predominantly moor or heath", some sorts of common land, and

The necessary exemptions are there. In seeking to remove the reference to national parks, I am ensuring that their villages and towns are not treated differently from those elsewhere.

Mr. Winterton: The confusion arises over where villages and towns begin and moor and heath end. In many areas--I refer particularly to the Peak park, in which part of my constituency lies--there is no fixed point at which the moor and heath end and villages begin. I wonder about the Bill's enforceability if my hon. Friend removes the national parks exemption.

Mr. Hunter: The process of designation includes the provision that the Secretary of State, through regulation, should draw up the procedures that the local authorities must follow. A consultation period is involved. Local authorities that wish to designate land will be obliged by regulation to advertise the fact.

The democracy of local government would be at work. A local authority that wanted to designate a zone would have to have a period of discussion within the workings of local democracy, during which councillors and the people would discuss whether the line should be drawn there or here, or say that they did not want a designated zone at all. There is an element of flexibility that is finalised through the application and designation of the zone. That is how my hon. Friend's uncertainty over where a designated zone stops and starts would be resolved.

I must clarify what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). When I referred to woodland, I meant land that is used for woodland. It is the commercial forestry aspect and not the mere fact of there being trees that is important.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green): The more my hon. Friend talks about clause 1, the more horrified I am by its concept. Do I understand that whole areas of Richmond park, which have been enjoyed for centuries by the public--whether by themselves or for walking their dogs--are to be poop-scoop zones? Are the forests of Exmoor to be poop-scoop zones? Are my constituents and other people to crash round the undergrowth with a pooper-scooper in search of where their dogs have been? My hon. Friend is being most illiberal, and I beg him to reconsider.

Mr. Hunter: My hon. Friend has missed a fundamental point. There is nothing obligatory in the Bill, and it

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imposes nothing. It makes available to local authorities that wish to use its powers the means to tackle a problem that they find that they cannot tackle without it. It is there for those local authorities in parts of the country where there is a demand from people to resolve this issue. The Bill's powers are not being imposed on my hon. Friend or anyone else unless they are wanted.

Mr. Hargreaves: My hon. Friend is being a little disingenuous. Can he recollect there ever having been a power given to local authorities that they have not, in the pursuit of modern political correctness, instigated with immediate appetite? This is the nanny state gone mad. I beg my hon. Friend to reconsider the clause.

Mr. Hunter: I do not accept my hon. Friend's arguments, and think that he is getting carried away by his own enthusiasm and the light-heartedness and less responsible nature of a Friday morning. I shall remind him of the Bill's essence.

Over the years, many local authorities have come to the conclusion that the byelaw system of dealing with the problem of dog fouling is inadequate. That fact emerged from the Department of the Environment's advisory group on litter, which reported in 1994. Among its conclusions was the suggestion that there should be a national offence, in order to simplify and accelerate the process of giving local authorities powers to deal with dog fouling as and when they wanted.

The Bill, if enacted, will be dealt with differently in different parts of the country; it will be irrelevant to many areas and much needed in others. It will be there for local authorities to use if they think that it will allow them better to represent and serve the interests of local people.

My hon. Friend is getting carried away over nothing; there is no question of a nanny state. We are talking about an anti-social activity involving dogs, irresponsible dog owners and a health hazard. It is right that we should give the local authorities the powers they need to be able to deal with the problems more efficiently.

10 am

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Is my hon. Friend aware--I am sure he is, as it is no doubt why he has promoted the Bill--that there are 100 to 200 cases a year reported in this country alone of toxocara canis? I urge him to recommend our hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) to read the report in the British Medical Journal of 2 July 1994, which I have been reading with growing perturbation.

The article is written by a consultant ophthalmologist, Mr. Kerr-Muir. He says that toxocaral visceral larva migrans

He goes on and on, but I would not be in order were I to read it all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. The hon. Gentleman is also going on and on.

Mr. Hunter: I regret that I have not seen the article to which my hon. Friend referred, but I should very much appreciate receiving a copy of it. Perhaps he will arrange

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for a copy of it to be placed in the Library as many parts of it may be extremely relevant to the debate. If my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may well be able to enlighten us further on the contents of the article.

Mr. Jenkin: May I bring my hon. Friend back to the amendments that we are discussing, as I am becoming increasingly perturbed about the overlap of the exclusions and the powers that he seeks to give to local authorities?

When my hon. Friend referred to Hampstead heath, he said that the City of London, which might wish to regulate dog fouling on Hampstead heath, should be allowed to do so without interference from other local authorities or jurisdictions. But land that is predominantly moor or heath is specifically excluded from the Bill. Are the definitions of what is to be excluded or included sufficiently thought through? My hon. Friend's amendments suggest that he has had second thoughts on the matter. If that point is not made clear, the Bill will be impossible to apply--different authorities with different jurisdictions will compete with dog owners and point to exclusions in the Bill, making it impossible for the powers to be applied where the public want them.

Mr. Hunter: My hon. Friend is making a bit of a mountain out of this. The Bill has an essential simplicity, and I shall remind my hon. Friend of its fundamental objective: to concentrate on those areas--towns, villages and cities--where the problem of dog fouling is greater. It is not an anti-dog Bill or an anti-dog owners Bill; it is a Bill that seeks to encourage responsible dog ownership. Responsible dog owners will welcome it; it acknowledges that dog fouling is an environmental problem and a health risk.

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