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Mr. Fabricant rose--

Mr. Jenkin rose--

Mr. Thomason: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is aware that horses are herbivores, not carnivores, like dogs, so the nature of the excrement is far less damaging. In some places--including Lichfield--people get out not pooper scoopers but shovels and put horse excrement on their roses. They certainly could not and would not want to do that with dog excrement.

Mr. Thomason: I entirely accept that point, but horse excrement is nevertheless an unpleasant obstruction on a public footpath or bridleway. It may well have much better uses--my hon. Friend is right--but it did seem absurd that we were creating that differential.

Amendment No. 20, also in my name, deals with the speed limit on the highway in clause 1(2). The Bill provides that there will be an exclusion where the speed limit is at least 40 mph, and I suggest that that should be reduced to 30 mph. I do so for two reasons.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) for introducing the Bill, which is a much-needed addition to legislation. In Committee, he said that he envisaged the Bill as being primarily aimed at tackling an urban problem. The first reason for amendment No. 20 is that roads where the speed limit is 40 mph are sometimes urban, but are sometimes rural or semi-rural.

The second reason arises from the fact that subsection (2) was introduced because it is rightly considered dangerous for people to have to scoop on or near a road where vehicles are travelling at considerable speeds. One can draw an artificial line anywhere where one considers that speed alone is excessively dangerous to people who would be involved in that activity, but an urban road at 30 mph is very different from a semi-urban or rural road where traffic is travelling at 40 mph.

The intention of the subsection is much better served by fixing the speed limit at 30 mph. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke will be able to accept both amendments.

Mr. Jenkin: I can think of several urban roads in my constituency with a 40 mph speed limit, such as Remembrance avenue, which is by any standards an urban road, or Lexden road, which has a 40 mph speed limit in places. Therefore, a 40 mph speed limit seems to be an appropriate designation. In open countryside, the technical speed limit, subject to road safety, is 60 mph. The exclusion is therefore obviously intended to apply only to all urban roads. As some urban roads have a 40 mph speed limit, it seems sensible to stick to that speed limit.

Mr. Thomason: I understand my hon. Friend's point and expression of concern. I am sure we all know of urban

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roads where the speed limit is 40 mph, but we also may know of inadequately lighted roads with a speed limit of 40 mph. There is a requirement of adequate lighting for roads whose speed limit is 30 mph--that is one of the definitions--but very often roads with a 40 mph speed limit are not adequately lighted, so the road safety point seems to predominate.

The worst thing we could seek to do is create a clause that exposes members of the public to a danger. I believe that, at 40 mph, there would still be considerable danger, so the amendment is appropriate.

Mr. Patrick Thompson: I genuinely want my hon. Friend to help me. As I understand it, his amendments would make clause 1(2) read:





and so on. I do not follow that, because it is unclear whether the speed limit applies only to the road or to the bridleway or footpath. In any case, if we are talking about land alongside a bridleway or footpath, I am not sure that I agree with the point that my hon. Friend is making.

I am not a lawyer; my hon. Friend is. No doubt I am totally misreading his intention. Will he please clarify?

Mr. Thomason: I think that, if my hon. Friend had the Bill before him with paragraphs (a) and (b) set out as I propose, he would find it somewhat easier to follow. Paragraph (b) refers to the whole of the rest of that clause, so it will not refer to a speed limit applying to footpaths or bridleways; that is not the intention. The proviso will refer to, and be incorporated in, paragraph (b), not in paragraph (a).

Mr. Thompson: I accept that, but--this may be another misreading of the amended clause--does my hon. Friend intend that land alongside a bridleway or footpath should no longer be so designated? If so, I have my doubts about the proposal.

Mr. Thomason: In answer to my hon. Friend's second point about the verge, which I was going to come to, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the footpath and the verge of that footpath where it adjoins fields or woodland. If the provision were not phrased as I propose, a person would be able to walk their dog on the physical line of the footpath without a scoop, and they would be able to let their dog wander into the field without a scoop because of the agricultural exemption, yet there would be a verge in between where they would have to undertake a collection. Therefore, it is necessary for the verge to be included.

Mr. Hargreaves: It is an eminently sensible suggestion. May I commend my hon. Friend for amendment No. 20 regarding the speed limit? On many roads in and outside national parks--such as in almost the whole of the New forest, and in the Lake district--with a speed limit, technically, of 30 mph, one may expect traffic to travel at least at that speed, because there are long open

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straights and nothing to be seen for miles on either side. It would be extremely dangerous for people to wander about with pooper scoops on those roads.

Mr. Thomason: I am obliged to my hon. Friend; he makes good points.

I shall briefly discuss the other amendments in the group. I am persuaded by what my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said about his amendments, and I am sure that they make a great deal of sense. I especially congratulate him on amendment No. 5, referring to marshland, which seemed to me an important exclusion from the Bill previously. He is right to include that with the agricultural land and so on to which the Bill would not apply.

All the amendments in this considerable group have much to commend them, except, I regret to say, amendment No. 11 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), which will, I fear, excessively narrow the terms of the legislation. The definitions in it are unsatisfactory. I go no further on that point, because I appreciate that my hon. Friend has not had a chance yet to advance his arguments on the amendment, but I have grave doubts about it. It seems to me to do great harm to the purpose of the Bill and make it much more difficult to implement and use.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on introducing the Bill, which I support. There is no doubt that we must deal with this menace in urban areas. However, my probing amendments Nos. 11 and 12 allow my hon. Friend and the Minister in summing up the debate to comment on how the Bill will affect rural compared with urban areas.

I am perhaps fortunate to live both in the middle of Westminster, where I cannot see a single tree, and in the middle of Lincolnshire, in my constituency, where I cannot see another house. I acknowledge that dog fouling is an appalling problem in Westminster, Kensington and in other urban areas, but it is not a problem in rural areas. My amendments seek confirmation as to what areas will be designated under the legislation. They make the point that people who live in rural areas--particularly those with legitimate sporting interests, to which one amendment refers specifically--

10.30 am

Ms Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people who live in rural areas are very concerned about the effects on children of dog fouling? Sporting dogs, which roam into villages and small towns in rural areas, leave excrement that is much more dangerous than that of dogs that normally eat pre-packaged food from which many of the toxins have been removed. That is a problem in the north Pennines where I live.

Mr. Leigh: I acknowledge that there is a problem in rural areas, but I do not think that it is anywhere near as great as in urban areas. Many people believe that legislation that is designed primarily for urban areas impacts unduly on rural areas. The hon. Lady refers to sporting dogs, but there is a legitimate fear--which was voiced when the previous Bill was considered in the other

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place last year--that local authorities would use the Bill for political reasons to affect legitimate sporting interests. That is why my amendment No. 12 addresses those interests specifically.

No one doubts that it is a serious problem: we should not have to put up with dog excrement on our sidewalks. However, the legislation will create special problems on the edges of villages, such as those in my constituency. I ask my hon. Friend and the Minister to confirm the extent of the Bill's jurisdiction. Will it apply to grass verges on the edge of villages? There are about 7 million dogs in this country, many of which are owned by elderly people who walk them on the outskirts of villages in rural areas. Will the Bill apply to grass verges? My hon. Friend has said that it will not apply to areas around roads where traffic travels at more than 40 mph. However, cars travel quickly around villages also. Must villagers take pooper scoopers with them when walking their dogs? Such problems must be addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield(Mr. Winterton) made a very serious point when my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said that there would be no exemptions under the legislation. However, there is an exemption for blind people and for guide dogs in clause 3(3). So, contrary to what he said, my hon. Friend has made some exemptions. Therefore, I believe that there should be some exemption for legitimate sporting purposes. It should be absolutely clear on the face of the Bill that it is designed to deal with a serious problem--dogs fouling sidewalks--in strictly urban areas. The legislation should not apply to grass verges, the outskirts of villages or to hunts that meet in the middle of villages.

That is a very serious point. Some people may think that this is a minor Bill of no real interest, but I refer hon. Members to the comments of Lord Simon of Glaisdale in the other place. He described it as a serious matter and said that the legislation represented a centralising of authority. He referred to


This is an important Bill, which represents a massive centralisation of power.


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