Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Patrick Thompson: I do not wish to resist or to interfere with the valid arguments that my hon. Friend is advancing on behalf of rural interests. However, in my constituency complaints about dog fouling have increased by 291 per cent. in the past year or so. Broadland district council said:

I ask my hon. Friend to acknowledge that point; I am not trying to resist his argument in total.

Mr. Leigh: Of course, I acknowledge that point. I am not saying that dog fouling is not a problem in the centre of villages. Some villages are very large, such as several in my constituency that have populations of 3,000 or 4,000. It is correct to adopt the old-fashioned approach of allowing local authorities to use their good sense and to introduce byelaws based on local knowledge. However, as it is drafted, the Bill does not take into account the

22 Mar 1996 : Column 625

interests of those who live in primarily agricultural areas, on the outskirts of villages, or in villages such as mine with about 12 houses. My probing amendments aim to force the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke to set my mind at rest by confirming that the Bill is not another attack on legitimate interests.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I know that my hon. Friend is interested in hunting and in all sporting activities. He has referred to villages in which meets take place. Such meets are often centred around public houses that are close to village greens. When there is a gathering of 15 couple or 20 couple of hounds and many horses and ponies, inevitably there will be quite a few deposits. I wonder how such meets would be affected by what I perceive to be the additional powers--albeit discretionary powers--that the Bill affords local authorities. I am concerned that the legislation may adversely affect traditional customs.

Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend makes a very serious point. I took part in the last hunt organised by the United Hunts of Lincolnshire--the Blankney, Brocklesby and Burton hunts--in the village of Brant Broughton only last Monday. That hunt met in the middle of a large village. There were 80 followers of hounds mounted on horseback, perhaps 100 foot followers and a pack of hounds. It is absurd to suggest that a local authority or some centralising power in the Bill could force an army of people to follow the hounds with pooper scoopers. That is why I believe that perfectly legitimate Bills that are designed to deal with primarily urban problems should not apply in the same way to rural areas. The legislation's ramifications for rural areas have not been considered properly.

It is common to allow dogs to roam unaccompanied in villages and in rural areas. How will the Bill apply in those circumstances? Many of those who live in rural areas train their dogs to defecate in gutters or in ditches. Will such people--including the elderly--be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000? Those serious questions should be addressed.

I am glad that hon. Members have referred to national parks and to common land. I am not sure that all the issues have been seriously considered and debated. This is our first opportunity to debate the Bill. It was not debated on Second Reading, when it passed through formally, and it was not debated in Committee. We are debating the legislation this morning and I am seeking some answers. Many people who live in the centre of large villages are happy to rely on their local authorities to do the right thing. However, they are seeking reassurance on several counts. If my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke can provide those assurances, I shall be happy to support the Bill.

Mr. Fabricant: I shall speak to amendment No. 22, in my name, which seeks to exclude from the Bill the land between the low and high tide marks at the seaside. Although I represent a constituency that is as far away from the sea as one can get, I was born by the seaside in a little village called Rottingdean, four miles east of Brighton. Picture if you will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a little Michael Fabricant, four years of age, toddling with his

22 Mar 1996 : Column 626

bucket and spade by the seaside and coming across the poop that we ought to be scooping. However, it is a serious matter.

I mentioned in an earlier intervention the British Medical Journal article about toxocara canis. It is interesting to note that 2 to 3 per cent. of all adults and 7 to 14 per cent. of schoolchildren have been exposed to the disease--possibly even the little four-year-old Michael Fabricant, although I do not know, as I did not suffer any of the symptoms--not only those whose families have dogs. Quite clearly, they are catching it from dog faeces.

After last night's debate, I am pleased that we are not simply taking note of a directive from Brussels on crottes de chien. Subsidiarity does work--that is demonstrated by the fact that today's debate is taking place here, in the mother of Parliaments, and we can debate the matter without interference from Brussels, so some powers still remain in this Parliament.

Mr. Hargreaves: Does not my hon. Friend accept, however, that it has come to a pretty pass when the only subject that we can debate is where and when dogs may defecate? If that is what Parliament has come to, my hon. Friend and I--and perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--ought to do something about it.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes a telling point indeed.

Mr. Patrick Thompson: Before my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) seeks to devalue the debate, is my hon. Friend aware that, according to the figures that I have available, more than 1,000 tonnes of excrement are deposited every day?

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I was pointing out, the consequences of that in the form of toxocara canis can be quite devastating as well as most unpleasant.

I am surprised that there are no powers to deal with this poisonous menace, such as those that already apply to some degree in regard to litter, which sometimes can be less dangerous.

My reason for tabling the amendment is simple common sense. There are two tides a day. The sea water comes twice a day between the low and high tide mark and, although dog owners should exercise responsibility--incidentally, the regular worming of dogs would to a large extent abolish part of the problem of toxocara canis, and a little more responsibility from dog owners would mean we would not have to debate this important Bill--the movement of the tides means that it is unnecessary to include that strip of land which surrounds these British Isles and separates the low and high tide mark.

Mr. Thomason: Has my hon. Friend considered the impact of Crown exemption on that strip of land? I understand that the strip of land between the high and low water marks is vested in the Crown estate. I wonder whether the exclusions that apply to the Crown mean that the Bill would not be applicable in any event.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is far more experienced than I am in those matters. He will know

22 Mar 1996 : Column 627

that I was not a councillor before I became a Member of Parliament, and he may well be right. Nevertheless, if he is wrong, it is right simply from the point of common sense to exclude from the Bill that strip of land where, twice a day, automatically there will be a cleaning of the foreshore by the movement of the tides.

The amendment does not seek to encourage people to bring their dogs to the sea front to defecate, as happens in parts of Brighton, where I came from originally. That is an appalling practice, too. It was interesting to notethat, some years ago, Brighton borough council, as it wasthen, introduced the very first dog toilets in theUnited Kingdom. It is also interesting that they weresubsequently introduced in Paris. The French copied us. That demonstrates that Britain can not only be in the heart of Europe; it can lead Europe, too.

10.45 am

Mr. Hargreaves: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the amendments. Let me refer the House back to amendments Nos. 1 to 6 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). I am concerned that those amendments should not mitigate unfairly against those who would normally walk their dogs on river walks and towpaths. I seek clarification from my hon. Friend that the authority, whether it is vested in a public utility or the local council--and sometimes they may overlap--would not affect the exclusions or the powers to exclude that my hon. Friend's amendments would introduce.

In and around Birmingham, there are large areas of canals. Beside those canals, there are miles of footpaths with significant verges on either side, some of which lead to leafy woodland areas or fields and some of which are in the middle of urban areas. A distinction must be made between those areas. It has always been the habit of people in Birmingham to conserve the land--which is not far from where I live in my constituency--where the River Cole runs through the city. It has been the habit for scores of years, if not decades, for people to walk their dogs along the river bank and for the dogs to run wild and free, roaming around the conservation area.

I should be deeply concerned if my hon. Friend's amendments did not exclude those areas from the competence of the Bill. They represent a natural amenity, where people do not currently crash around in the undergrowth. I would hate the effect of the Bill to be that dog owners should be forced to crash around in the undergrowth that conservationists have tried desperately hard to maintain, brandishing their pooper scoopers, seeking the faeces that the dog had just produced. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure me that that is not the case.

I understand that my hon. Friend's amendments affect towpaths running alongside canals. Will he explain the effect on dog owners who regularly use those towpaths, which are comparatively little used for any other purpose? I seek clarification from my hon. Friend on that.

Next Section

IndexHome Page