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Mr. Edward Davey: The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) has, as usual, made a thoughtful and intelligent contribution to our debate. His last point applies to regulation in general. Many people see regulation as damaging to business, but often it can promote business, creating a market and encouraging people to get involved. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that there is a business case, although that may not be the main point. The overriding case for the Bill is the need to end the discrimination that blind, deaf and other disabled people have experienced.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) did the House a great service by bringing out some of the key underlying issues that faced those who drafted the Bill. It is worth pointing out, though, that the dogs in question are all exceptionally well trained. We have missed that point up to now. My partner's family have a dog called Sweep who was rejected as a guide dog because he was not up to the mark. He had been chosen as a puppy and had gone through the initial training, but had been unable to control himselfhe had been too "boisterous", to use the word in amendment No. 2.
I want to draw the attention of the House to Canine Partners for Independence. Hon. Members are probably aware of Guide Dogs for the Blind and of the increasing number of dogs being used to assist people with hearing impairments, but they may not know of the CPI, which is a small but growing charity that shows how dogs can help people with disabilities in amazing ways: they can do shopping, load dirty washing into machines, open doors and call for lifts.
I want to focus on dogs calling for lifts. Dogs are trained to do that, which may go some way towards answering the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who questioned the intentions underlying amendment No. 2. It might be possible for the operator to know whether the dog is in an excitable state when the lift is called for. To be serious, however, I would imagine that the operator receiving the call would have been trained to understand and accept such calls.
Mr. Davey: I would love to be able to explain that in detail, but to save time I refer the hon. Gentleman to the website of Canine Partners for Independence. It may be that the hon. Member for Hendon will be able to elucidate further.
Afterwards, the disabled person and the dog are matched in a very careful and sensitive way. There is a two-week residential training course during which they get to know each other and learn the various commands, followed by a graduation ceremony if the dog is successful. Even after graduation, there is follow-up care and supervision. All that training has not been mentioned in the debate so far.
Mr. Boswell: The hon. Gentleman is making a constructive contribution, and setting the debate in the right context. Dogs for the Disabled is located just inside my constituency, near Banbury, so I can echo the experience that he has just outlined.
Mr. Davey: I am grateful for that. I do not know the dogs myself, but my constituent Pauline Hamblin works for the CPI and brought its good works to my attention. She was a great help in preparing for this debate.
The Parliamentary UnderSecretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Had the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) been here, he would have been a little surprised at the slightly surreal contribution of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), who moved new clause 1 and proceeded to speak against it forcefully. I am in danger of doing the oppositeof opposing the new clause but speaking for it.
You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a story to which the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet referred. During a debate on education, I was an illustrious member of the Whips Office, sitting where the Government Whip is sitting now. The dog belonging to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) unfortunately misbehaved by doing one of the things to which new clause 1 refers. At one point, it was suggested that we adjourn the House for a moment so that a clean-up might be effected; indeed, I believe that you were in the Chair at the time. However, in the end it was I who crawled along the floor with a cloth and performed the clean-up.
There was a sequel to that. Shortly afterwards, in September, I went on a parliamentary trip to the United States. The senator who introduced the British parliamentarians and said a little about their backgrounds eventually got to me. He looked down at his notes and said, "Mr. Jamieson, you're the guy who cleaned up the dog puke." So my claim to fame in this House is that I was the guy who cleaned up after my right hon. Friend's dog. One reason to smile on that occasion was that the dog threw up just as the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) got to his feet to make his speech.
However, there is a serious point here. It is important that other people respect dogs that are kept for that purpose, and do not feed them without the knowledge of their owner. Indeed, that was the problem that gave rise to the incident to which I referred.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): There is a further important and serious point that needs to be made. As a former Whip, the Minister will be aware that colleagues consider a Whip's job as involving all sorts of nasty things. He has just demonstrated that the reality of the Whip's job is to crawl around on the ground doing strange things. Is that not the truth of the job that he used to do, and which I now do?
The Government believe that new clause 1 is unnecessary and we will not support it. It adds nothing to the general law of torta point on which there has been an interesting debate today. If a person or an animal over which he has control causes damage, a tort arises and the owner of the damaged property can sue for the cost of repairing or replacing it. That applies equally to a disabled person with an assistance dog and to someone with a pet dog.
Mr. Pond: Does the Minister agree that new clause 1 is not only unnecessary but could also prove dangerous? I know that he, like other hon. Members, has visited Gravesham. He will have seen that the cabs in that town are in pristine condition, but that is not always the case throughout the country. Perhaps some unscrupulous cab owners might use the new clause to get such passengers to pay for a clean-up that in reality had nothing to do with their dog. Indeed, such passengers would be unable to ascertain the truth of the situation.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshirein whose name new clause 1 has been tabledmay have thought that, by imposing an obligation on the driver of such a vehicle to carry a dog, the Bill will remove the driver's normal private law rights to sue for damage caused by passengers and their animals. However, we believe that the general law covering such circumstances does not remove such rights. I should also point out that new clause 1 is flawed, in that it does not state to whom the payment should be made, or by whom it would be recoverable.
Mr. Boswell: Am I right in thinking that the driver's public law obligations in relation to the safety of his vehicle, for example, are not removed, and that if there is ever any doubt as to whether he should carry on driving, he would be fully within his rights to stop? Is not the provision concerned solely with discrimination, in terms of admitting a guide dog to a vehicle?
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made a brief and succinct contribution on amendment No. 2. In our view, the Bill already offers sufficient protection for drivers. It does not force drivers to carry dogs in circumstances in which they would normally refuse. For example, as was pointed out, they are not obliged to take a drunk or disorderly person, with or without a dog. Equally, they can refuse to take an unruly assistance dog. Refusing to take an unruly dog is not the same thing as refusing to take a fare. Because the passenger in question would be accompanied by an assistance dog, no offence would be committed in such circumstances.
If the Bill succeedsit is my earnest hope that it shouldwe intend to issue full guidance to private hire operators and drivers, as well as disabled users, just as we have done in respect of taxis. The guidance will cover all the issues raised, and we believe that that will be more than sufficient to reassure people. In any event, I think it highly unlikely that the circumstances envisaged in the amendment will arise. No similar provision for taxis is made in section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, so the amendment would create an imbalance in legislation. Of course, it may be felt that that is not good enough, and that we should look at the provisions afresh. In support of our position, I should point out that since April last yearwhen the provisions in section 37 began to apply to taxiswe are unaware of any cases of problems arising through the behaviour of assistance dogs.