Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Sir Nicholas Winterton : My hon. Friend is making an interesting case, but because of my other activities in this place and because I was not on the Standing Committee, much of this is new to me. Does she accept that fly-tipping and dumping—dumping cars in the countryside, for instance—and other antisocial acts are a result of people behaving badly? Does she agree that the way in which to deal with that is to impose firm and severe penalties on those who are identified and taken to court for such offences? I have not heard what we will do about offences that desecrate the countryside.

When I go home on a Thursday night, the first thing I do on Friday morning is clean up the litter outside my house—litter dumped not by the local authority, not by government, but by people who do not appreciate the value of the countryside, or people in urban areas who do not appreciate the environment in which they live.

Miss McIntosh: I think my hon. Friend will find that the Bill is silent on that, particularly cases involving privately owned land. If the perpetrator cannot be found, it is the landowner's responsibility to remove the waste.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my frustration? When a number of my constituents contacted me about a very nasty serial fly-tipper, I took great pleasure in relaying to local police what that individual was doing. When he eventually came up before the courts, he was fined the measly sum of £500 and asked to do some community service. He has now returned to fly-tipping just as badly as before, and we hope to catch him again. Does my hon. Friend agree that the courts need to take note of the genuine concern felt by all hon. Members in all parts of the House about the gravity of the situation, and that the courts are perhaps not taking this issue seriously enough?

Miss McIntosh: The problem seems to be apprehending the perpetrator, whether that involves seizing the vehicle or finding out who dumped on the land, the issue about which we have expressed greatest concern. That remains a flaw in the Bill's provisions on fly-tipping. The same is true of fly-posting: we tabled a number of amendments on over-posting, which, regrettably, the Government did not see fit to accept. However, all is not lost, and I hope that it will be possible further to scrutinise this issue in the other place.
21 Feb 2005 : Column 107

I turn to the last point that the NFU asked us to take up, which, again, we were unable to discuss because we did not reach the amendment on dogs. I hope that the Minister agrees that when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is fully implemented, it may become apparent that there are specific areas of farmland where dog control orders will be required to combat dog-related nuisance. I hope that the Government will seek to fulfil expectations in that regard.

On provisions relating to dogs, I yield to none other than my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who has done sterling work in this regard. I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that because of the way in which the knives fell—the decision was not ours but the Government's—we were unable to move and debate amendment No. 11. There is a real need for such an amendment because the Bill is silent on how local authorities will implement such provisions. As my hon. Friend is aware, not every local authority will have a dog warden or access to kennels, and most will not provide a 24-hour dog warden service, as is currently provided. The Bill will require the provision of kennels to house stray dogs in each local authority area, and it will require the provision of treatment for injured dogs—and, regrettably, the putting down of dogs that are too badly injured. We did not have a huge amount of time to discuss that in Committee.

Derek Conway : I read the deliberations of the Committee on which my hon. Friend did such a sterling job in very limited time; indeed, only about 45 minutes were spent on the subject. Does she share my amazement that no real figures have yet been given, to the House or the Committee, on the additional costs to local authorities? The Dogs Trust has estimated a cost of £13.2 million if just one additional dog warden per local authority were appointed. I hope that the Minister might be able to put a bit of flesh on the bones of those costs. I could not find such figures in the Committee's deliberations, although my hon. Friend was clearly pressing the Minister.

Miss McIntosh: Indeed. The Library has come up with a figure for dog control offences. Receipts from the issuing of fixed penalty notices at a rate of 75 per cent. would yield only £112,500 across all local authorities in England and Wales, whereas the actual cost would be between £1.8 million and £13.2 million. Those figures represent the estimated cost to police, plus the cost of one dog warden at £30,000 per annum, multiplied by 440 local authority areas in England and Wales. That information is taken from the Dogs Trust briefing to Committee members. I hope that it assists my hon. Friend.

Alun Michael: I hate to interrupt the conversation between the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), but I do not want the House inadvertently to be misled. Section 149(9) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires any stray dogs detained by a local authority

21 Feb 2005 : Column 108

That clearly includes the treatment of sick and injured dogs. That is why, had we reached the clause that the hon. Lady mentioned, I would have explained why it was unnecessary.

Secondly, the authority's duty to deal with stray dogs is clearly set out in the 1990 Act. When the Bill comes into force, local authorities will be solely responsible—a decision greatly welcomed by the police. As I have already explained, commencement of this part of the Bill will be dependent on agreement over the transfer of resources, which will enable the local authority to undertake those duties. The duty is not restricted to daylight hours, so local authorities will need to have suitable arrangements in place to deal with stray dogs on a 24-hour basis. It does not necessarily involve kennels; arrangements with the local vet could be utilised, as already happens in some rural areas. These are all practical issues and I have to point out that they were debated in Committee.

Miss McIntosh: The Minister confirms the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and I have consistently made: either there was sufficient consultation and the Bill has been well thought out in a consistent and comprehensive manner, or the Bill has been rushed through—[Interruption.] It goes to the core of the matter. If the Minister wants the Bill to succeed, there must surely be a mechanism for approving the transfer of resources. Very helpfully from the point of view of Conservative Members, the Minister has highlighted the fact that there is no guarantee of the transfer of resources, as it is currently up for discussion. I raised that matter in Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup raised it on Second Reading. It should not have been necessary to delay implementation of this part of the Bill.

Alun Michael: The hon. Lady is wrong yet again. It was the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust that raised the matter directly with me and I undertook to take their concerns seriously, as I made clear in Committee. I then tabled an amendment to ensure that commencement of this part of the Bill can happen only once the transfer of resources has been agreed. It is all very straightforward.

Miss McIntosh: It was so straightforward that the Minister did not consult or seek the views of the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust or the National Dog Wardens Association. What confidence can we and the great British public have in a Bill that has been so shoddily thought through and so poorly consulted on that we are where we are now?

Derek Conway: I must tell the House that I do not know how my hon. Friend has managed to stay so calm. The Minister intervened to say that it would all have been covered in earlier consideration had we got to it. We did not get to it and my hon. Friend could not move her amendment because of the guillotine imposed on the House by the Minister. The fact that we have not properly considered the details has nothing to do with my hon. Friend: it has happened because the Minister has managed to whip through a curtailment of our debate. She is absolutely right to put the Minister on the spot, which is supposed to be the point of a Standing Committee and of our remaining stages. I hope that
21 Feb 2005 : Column 109
those in the other place will read our deliberations and press the Minister taking the Bill through the upper House. I have read what this Minister said in Committee and it is not the same as what he is saying to the House now.

Miss McIntosh: Indeed, and it is important to place on the record the fact that consultations and meetings were not sought. It is unacceptable to be at the final stages of the Bill's passage through this House without having received a firm and clear commitment from the Minister that a transfer of resources will take place. Is it good enough at this stage to say that the transfers are still being discussed? We have been left with two hours to debate the issues and we were not able to put these matters to a vote earlier.

Next Section IndexHome Page