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I have met this mother and I can assure the House that, every week, she has to live with what happenedweek-in, week-out; year-in, year-out. Her view is that education is the key to changing attitudes towards dog ownership. Dogs need to be properly trained and owners need to understand that sensible precautions should be followed to protect visitors and children in the home.
It is common sense that a child should never be left unsupervised in the company of a dog and it is surely not too difficult for dog owners to protect health visitors, meter readers, social workers or even the people who deliver parcels to the door by putting the dog in another room for the duration of a visit or while the door is being opened to a visitor. Surely such simple measures as a post box on the gate or a cage around the letter box in the door would do a great deal to protect postal workers. In that context, the ability to prosecute would be a useful tool for the police to employ in the most extreme cases and it could act as an important deterrent, helping to reinforce the message that education programmes are designed to convey.
Many other organisations support the measure. The Royal Mail, crucially, is giving it full support, as are the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management, Prospect and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. Unison also supports the measure because of concerns for its members who regularly visit patients and clients at home; while the group safety, health and environment manager of Scottish and Southern Energy has also pledged support. The legal department of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has received 30 claims for dog bites from members over the past two years, the bulk of which were from home delivery workers. In one case, a worker was so severely traumatised by a dogs attack on her as she delivered goods to a private address that she gave up her job.
The case for change is clear and the range of public bodies and members of the public supporting the Bill is growing by the day. The Bill proposes to take the emphasis away from the breed and focus on the deed. Currently, all dogs classified under section 1 of the 1991 Act as belonging to a breed dedicated to fighting are subject to seizure by the police, but on many occasions they are seized only to be registered and handed back to the owners on the grounds that those dogs are responsibly owned and managed. This practice ties up valuable police resources and time, which could be put to better use in tackling the growing problem of so-called status dogs.
The current law is not working. RSPCA inspectors, many police officers and local authority wardens are seeing many more different types of large powerful dogs on the streets, and section 1 of the 1991 Act has not had the desired result of preventing the four named types of dogs from becoming established in the UK. It has just not worked. It is the view of the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club that it really is time to change the Act in order to allow section 1 dogs to be exempted and added to the register without necessarily being seizedif it is the polices judgment that that is appropriate.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bill will focus attention on the deed rather than the breed. It is the action of ownerswhat they encourage or allow their dogs to dothat is important, rather than the breed or type of
dog involved. This measure in my Bill is designed to give the police discretion to act accordingly.
It is time to take action. Support for these measures is widespread. Furthermore, the Scottish Parliament is legislating on the issue in the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced on Monday 22 June. It proposes that warning notices be issued to owners of dogs whose behaviour is deemed to be unacceptable. We should consider doing the same in England as part of a process beginning with education and ending, in the worst cases, with prosecution backed by the appropriate penalties.
I understand that Northern Ireland is considering legislative change, as is the Welsh Assembly. England cannot afford to be left out. Its residents deserve the extra protection offered to their Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours, and the Bill provides the means to deliver it.
That Ms Angela C. Smith, Michael Connarty, Norman Baker, Mr. Bob Laxton, Geraldine Smith, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Natascha Engel, Joan Ryan, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Michael Clapham, Kelvin Hopkins and Miss Anne Begg present the Bill.
[Relevant Documents: Memorandum from the Audit Committees on the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Copies are available in the Vote Office. Seventh Report from the Justice Committee, Constitutional Reform and Renewal: Parliamentary Standards Bill, HC 791. Nineteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Legislative
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Sir Michael. There has been a most extraordinary development since we met yesterday. The Justice Committee produced a report to the House this very morning in which it has recommended that clause 10 be not proceeded with. That was decided unanimously, and with a majority of Labour Members present. The Justice Secretary has already indicated that he will not proceed with clause 6, and I am sure that it would assist this Committees deliberations considerably if he indicated now whether he is minded to accept the unanimous report of a Select Committee of the House.
The Second Deputy Chairman: As far as the Chair is concerned, our proceedings must simply follow the order that is set out before us. I am sure that if the Justice Secretary wishes to alter those arrangements or make any other interventions, he will do so in his own time.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Government for adding their name to my amendment proposing the deletion of clause 6. It seemed to me that the clause added absolutely nothing to the Bill, as the House already has a code of conduct that reflects the Nolan rules. It also posed a substantial risk in opening up to judicial review that which happens in the House. I am glad that the Government have recognised the force of the arguments against it, have heeded the wise counsel of the Clerk of the House, and have had second thoughts.
There are many other issues that we hope to address later, so I will not detain the House any longer. I merely express my gratitude for the fact that common sense has prevailed, and the clause is now not to be part of the Bill.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con):
I am sure everyone will be relieved that the Government have shown such good sense. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the
Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) on his amendment. If we are lucky enough, in terms of the timetable and in other respects, we shall deal later with new clauses 7 and 8, which will help to clarify issues relating to the application of article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689 and the supremacy of Parliament. However, I think that we can leave that debate until later.
Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): We are, of course, pleased that the Government have decided to remove clause 6. However, we wish to make clear that that is not because we do not approve of the idea of a codeindeed, we already have onebut because, as the Clerk of the House made clear, the clause would have put us on a collision course with the courts.
While I welcome what I expect the Secretary of State for Justice to tell us in a moment, this does rather take us back to the future. I will not rehearse all the arguments that were in my Second Reading speech, but I will say that if clause 6 had remained in the Bill, the legitimate concerns of constituents would have been replaced by the vexatious concerns of litigants.
We are, however, disappointed that yesterday, having delighted us by saying that they would withdraw the clause, the Government brought it in again through the back door, in a slightly watered-down form, by changing all the language of clause 5 from the word rules to the word code. That, in our view, has introduced a new element of confusion. Before the amendments were passed, there was a welcome hint of clarity. The word code now refers only to financial interests. It is to some extent sub-divided in the language of clause 5, but, as with the use of the word standards, the Government have introduced that element of confusion, which could otherwise have been avoided.
I think that the origin is, once again, interference by the Prime Minister. Page 8 and other parts of the document that he produced yesterday, Building Britains Futureitself probably an inaccurate titlestate:
We are introducing legislation to create an independent regulator for Parliamentary standards, and a tough, legally binding Code of Conduct for MPs.
If we juxtapose the amended clause 5 and the soon-to-be absent clause 6 with what the Prime Minister has said about a legally binding code of conduct, and if we take what he has said at face value, we see that we may once again be heading for a justiciable code of conduct, which is exactly what the removal of clause 6 was designed to avoid.
We are not clearI am convinced that there is still confusionabout whether that will create the problems surrounding justiciability that the Clerk of the House has already highlighted, but I am afraid that our pleasure at the removal of the clause has been tainted by our disappointment that many of its disadvantageous elements have crept into the Bill elsewhere.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): As I said on Second Reading, it is good that the Secretary of State will remove clause 6, but when he rises to explain his reasoning for that, he might also explain his logic as to how it is consistent to remove clause 6 while retaining other provisions such as clause 10.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I am grateful for recognition of the fact that I have sought to respond to proposals from all parts of the House to improve the Bill, and I shall continue to do that wherever I can.
Let me say in response to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) that the provisions of clause 5 are completely different from those of clause 6, which we hope will be excised in its entirety in a few seconds. Clause 5 deals with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authorityand, for sure, various statutory duties are imposed on that. The fact that what was previously referred to as financial rules is now defined as a code relating to finance is a rose by any other name in that it does not make any substantive difference. I think I can see a twinkle in the hon. Gentlemans eye as he understands that point.
We will remove clause 6 because we have recognised the serious anxieties expressed, not least by the learned Clerk, and because, as the hon. Gentleman said, it could have encouraged litigious constituents. I might just add, however, that that prospect remains. It happens to be the case that I was the first Member of this House to be subject to legal action from a constituent who believed that they had been badly served by me. That happened at the end of the 2000-01 Session, and a resolution of the House was tabled on that. A completely inadvertent error was made, compounding one made by the local authority, in which the name of an innocent constituent who lived at No. 9 in a street was transposed to the address of a drug dealer against whom the constituent was complaining who lived at No. 11. The local authority transposed the two addresses. My very good member of staff did the same on the basis of the mistake by the local authority, and I was the subject of legal action. The House very kindly decided to indemnify me against the £33,000 that that mistake cost. That risk remains, but I have no wish to compound it.
As we are discussing clause 6, I shall come on to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) when we discuss clause 10. I see that an important amendment to it has been tabled by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) to which I am very sympathetic, and I will make a further decision about it in the course of these proceedings. With that, I ask that clause 6 be excised from the Bill.
(a) in any case where the member concerned has agreed that he has failed to register or declare an interest, if it is the Commissioners opinion that the interest involved is minor, or the failure was inadvertent, and the member concerned has taken such action by way of rectification as the Commissioner may have required within any procedure approved by the IPSA for this purpose; and
(b) in any case involving the MPs allowance scheme, or the use of facilities or services, if the Commissioner has with the agreement of the member concerned referred the matter to the IPSA for the purpose of securing appropriate financial reimbursement, and the member has made such reimbursement within such period of time as the Commissioner considers reasonable..
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