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Mr. Jenkin: I am concerned that the Bill's bark will be much worse than its bite because of the conflicts of jurisdiction that arise through the confusion between what is excluded and what is included.

Mr. Hunter: I think that Hampstead heath and Wimbledon common have been mentioned; the difficulty is that some areas already fall within a number of London boroughs--a regulating power looks after the land. We must accommodate the present relatively complicated position, which is why I have tabled the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I shall return to a point I made earlier, to which my hon. Friend sought to respond. I understand his difficulties and, overall, I think that he is trying to produce an excellent Bill that has long been needed. However, many of the farmers who belong to the Macclesfield and District Sheep Dog Trials Association, of which I am patron, live in villages such as Wincle and Wild Boarclough in my constituency. While they are responsible people, their dogs inevitably wander in those villages.

My fear is that, from time to time, the dogs might foul the pavements or roads. We do not have an officious and irresponsible council in Macclesfield--quite the contrary--but there may be over-officious councils in similar positions. What will happen? Will they prosecute

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a sheep farmer, who needs his sheepdogs for his work, because those dogs have fouled a pavement or road in a village in a national park?

Mr. Hunter: There is a flaw in my hon. Friend's argument. He has overlooked the fact that the powers in the Bill already exist--almost precisely--and are available through the byelaw regime. At present, a local authority can apply for--embark on--the byelaw procedure and establish dog-fouling byelaws where it so chooses. Local authorities will not be given greater powers as a result of the Bill, which merely simplifies the process. The offence created by the Bill is, essentially, the offence that already exists under byelaws. It is therefore wrong to argue that enacting the Bill will result in more draconian powers becoming available.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove): Does my hon. Friend agree that, under clause 3(1)(a), the "reasonable excuse" would probably provide a defence for someone caught in the circumstances to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred?

Mr. Hunter: That is indeed the case. The Bill provides a defence of "reasonable excuse" in circumstances where the owner could not reasonably be held responsible for an act of fouling performed by his or her dog.

I shall return to the theme of my argument. I had, somewhat paradoxically, arrived at the stage where I was going to acknowledge my thanks to two or three of my colleagues, who are not here today, who drew my attention to the difficulty that the Bill presents in terms of national parks.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) was the first person to draw my attention to the issue; my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) also drew my attention to it; and my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) showed me correspondence that he had received from the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on it. After the Bill appeared in January, national parks officials discovered that, as it stood, there was no cover for the villages and towns in national parks--which is why this somewhat controversial amendment is currently before us.

The last of my amendments in the first group--amendment No. 5--adds two areas that are exempt from designation, including marshland. The effect of the amendment, obviously, is to prevent local authorities from applying the poop-scoop offence to marshland. The origins of the amendment lie in the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) made in Committee and in subsequent correspondence with me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham suggested three other types of land to which, in his judgment, the provisions of the Bill should not apply. First, he suggested the foreshore, which I take to be the difference between high water and low water--and there is an amendment to that effect later. Secondly--to my great surprise and bewilderment--in Committee he suggested that riding schools and riding stables should be excluded. I still do not understand why he would think--he must have been

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temporarily confused--that the Bill has anything to do with horses and horse dung. I hope that my hon. Friends realise that we are concentrating entirely on dog fouling.

Mr. Hargreaves: It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) was quite realistically intimating that those who are engaged in a riding school might have dogs in attendance when they are mounted. They might find it somewhat difficult--if they are in charge of a small gaggle of children mounted on ponies--to solemnly dismount at an awkward moment and poop their scoop, or scoop their poop, while on horseback. They might have to relinquish charge of their little gaggle of Thelwellites in order to do so. That might be the reason behind my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Hunter: That is a remarkable insight that had not occurred to me. As my hon. Friend says, it would be extremely difficult to poop the scoop, or to scoop the poop, while on horseback.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): I apologise for arriving a little late during the start of the debate. I have had a chance to see the correspondence between my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson).

When I first read it, I thought that the analogy that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham was trying to make was between riding stables and farms. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke confirm that a farm would not be part of the area included? If that is the case, why can we not equate a farm and a riding stable--I have no strong views on this, but perhaps there is a simple explanation for it?

Mr. Hunter: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) has perhaps overlooked the fact that I am dealing with the part of the Bill that gives private landowners the right to, as it were, veto its application--that is, the powers of the Bill cannot be enforced on private land without the consent of the landowner.

Mr. Thompson: I am the first to admit that I have not been involved in the earlier stages of the debate on the Bill. However, surely that provision would apply to a riding stable as well as to a farm.

10.15 am

Mr. Hunter: The owner of any land, estate, farm, riding school or whatever could not have the powers of the Bill imposed on him. The private owner has the right to, as it were, veto the Bill. I referred to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that I accept--the one relating to marshland. I considered the suggestion carefully, and I came to the conclusion that it would be inappropriate to allow local authorities to designate marshland, as there is no clear requirement or case for it. There is no reason why people should be obliged to clean up after dogs in such areas.

There is already an element of protection under section 20 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 that controls access of dogs. In my judgment, that provision would be sufficient, particularly if the

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marshland were also a nature reserve. Therefore, I commend amendment No. 5.

That takes me through the eight amendments in my name in the first group. I believe that the Bill requires all the amendments. I think that the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield on the national parks issue is genuine but perhaps not fully justified.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will look sympathetically on an amendment or an addition to what he has said, to include working dogs, gundogs, working terriers and hounds, whether they are hunting in the normal way or hounds involved in a drag hunt? I am confused by the Bill. I know what my hon. Friend is seeking to do--and overall I support him--but does he believe that these categories of dog merit exemption from the discretionary powers in the Bill?

Mr. Hunter: There will be a number of amendments later that refer to certain categories of working dogs. It is fair to say that last year's Dogs (Fouling of Land) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), attempted to categorise dogs and to list exemptions. I am strongly opposed to that, because I think that any list of exemptions cannot be complete and will always have an element of controversy. I think that the reasonable excuse covers any circumstances in which, as my hon. Friend fears, the Bill could be unreasonable--therefore, it is already contained within the reasonable excuse.

Mr. Thomason: I speak to amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which stand in my name. Amendment No. 19 answers the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) raised a few moments ago. He expressed concern about people riding horses, having dogs with them and having to get down from their horse to scoop the poop, or to poop the scoop--whichever way around it should be--should one of the dogs foul the land.

The amendment includes bridleways and public footpaths in its list of exclusions. When I looked at the exemptions that appear in clause 1(3), I saw that agriculture and woodland are listed. It struck me as absurd that the field is exempt but that the bridlepath that goes through it is not. That leads to an artificial distinction. I understand that there are difficulties, because one does not want public footpaths or bridleways across fields to be covered in dog excrement.

Nevertheless, the Bill is getting into deep water if we require people to chase their dog and collect the excrement if it happens to be on the public footpath, whereas, if it is an inch or two away, on the field, the agricultural exemption applies. It would encourage people to walk their dogs on fields rather than along public footpaths. The footpath is much more desirable, for a variety of reasons. I believe that the amendment largely, if not entirely, addresses the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green.

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I considered a matter that other hon. Members have mentioned in relation to stables. It seemed absurd to me that horse dung--which, inevitably, is of considerably greater quantity--can be left on bridleways, yet there is a movement against dog excrement.


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