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Mr. David Drew presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to take steps to obtain tax information from British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies; to require banks, corporations and trusts to provide tax information; and for connected purposes.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require dog-owners to have their dogs micro-chipped; to set a minimum age for dog ownership; to give courts powers to ban households from dog ownership; to require local authorities to provide kennelling for stray dogs and to nominate responsible officers for dog control; to extend the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to private property; to empower the police and local authorities to issue dog control notices; to give police support officers powers to enforce byelaws relating to dogs; to require owners of breeding dogs to be accredited; to set minimum standards for accredited dog breeders; to give local authorities powers to enter premises used for dog breeding; to regulate access to dog ownership data; and for connected purposes.
Notwithstanding its title, the Bill is less about the control of dogs than about the control of dog owners. This is a problem that many of my hon. Friends have already raised in the House, some by means of private Members' Bills. I think we can all agree that it is the fault not of the dogs themselves but of their owners, many of whom are too young to take on the responsibility of owning and training a dog.
Not all people want a gentle dog, however. Some train them to fight or be vicious to warn people off, and sometimes to help them to commit crimes. Others simply do not know how to train or look after them. For many such people, dogs are a weapon. As the penalties for possession of guns and knives have become tougher, they have turned to dogs. Indeed, they prefer them in some ways. It is not necessary to hide them, for instance. As with guns and knives, they set off a chain reaction: other people buy dogs to protect themselves, but they in turn are seen as possible aggressors by others who then buy dogs to defend themselves.
The present legislation on dogs is a jumble. Many prosecutions are brought under obsolete Victorian legislation such as the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which makes it an offence to have a ferocious dog unmuzzled in a public place but also makes it an offence to fire a cannon close to a dwelling house. Fewer prosecutions are brought under the more recent Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. I think we have all come to realise that breed-specific legislation is a mistake. It costs the police more than £1 million a year to kennel dogs so that they can be examined by experts to establish whether they belong to a banned breed, a fact that is largely irrelevant to the danger that they pose.
I commend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), and the Secretary of State on recognising the need to sweep away this patchwork of legislation and bring in a modern law to deal with today's problems. My hon.
Friend visited Battersea Dogs and Cats home with me recently, and listened carefully to the advice given there. I do not think he would be wrong to see my Bill as a shopping list of things that we would like to see in a comprehensive Control of Dogs Bill, including most of the options on which he is consulting and a few more besides.
At the top of the list is microchipping. More than 40 per cent. of dogs are microchipped and are on the pet log database. My local authority, Wandsworth, microchips the dogs of all tenants. Battersea dogs home automatically does it to all dogs for £15. A law is required, however, to make it compulsory for all dogs in public places-although I do not think it need apply to farm dogs or sheep dogs-and also for owners to have to update the database when they move or transfer ownership. That would make it possible to set a minimum age for dog ownership. Battersea dogs home will re-home a dog only to somebody over 18, or 21 for a bull breed or guarding dog, which I think is a pretty good guide. The courts can already ban someone from dog ownership, but, in practice, people just transfer ownership to other members of their household. Therefore, a power to ban a household from keeping a dog is needed.
Since responsibility for strays was passed from the police to local authorities in April, it has become apparent that many local authorities have no kennelling at all. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 made some important reforms, but it was a mistake for it to say that local authorities need provide kennelling only "where practicable". Those are weasel words and the law needs to require them to provide that.
My council has a dog officer, Mark Callis, and six wardens who do a very good job, but even they cannot cope with the amount of work. Many other boroughs cannot cope-indeed, many of them do not have a dog warden at all. We must place an obligation on councils to have dog control officers.
Dangerous dogs are a huge issue in my constituency. People queue up to sign our petition and to support the campaign run on this issue by the Wandsworth and Putney Guardian. Dog fouling is the only issue that eclipses dangerous dogs and it should certainly be an equally prominent aim of this Bill to increase the powers of dog wardens and police community support officers to deal with dog fouling. In particular, PCSOs should have the power to enforce byelaws on the offence.
In Battersea and other areas there has been a rapid increase in demand for Staffordshire bull terriers and cross breeds. As the registered breeders have been unable to keep up with demand, some people have started breeding them in their front rooms and selling them on the internet and in pubs. A casual glance at internet sites such as Gumtree will reveal that cross-breed puppies are for sale for about £200, with the seller contactable via a mobile phone number, no address given. I know nothing about these individual breeders, of course, and some will, perhaps, be good while others will be bad, but what I do know is that many of these puppies end up as aggressive and unsocialised dogs abandoned after two years and left at Battersea dogs home, often in a pitiable state.
Even if the professional breeders will bridle at any official accreditation scheme, I think they will recognise that the problems are being caused by back-street breeders who are running front-room puppy farms. Safe in the
knowledge that no one has the right to inspect, they are often operated without the provision of exercise, training or decent sanitation. If puppies are to be sold, local authorities need to have the power to enter premises used for dog breeding, and there must be set minimum standards of space, hygiene, exercise and training. In order to achieve that, the owners of breeding dogs need to be accredited. That does not need to be complicated-it could be as simple as a phone call to the town hall-but we must have some such scheme. It would be best if accreditation was done through the breed societies and the Kennel Club, and if the microchip database was left in the ownership of PetLog and the other organisations that currently run that, but in any case this requirement clearly needs to be backed by law.
I again commend the Government on their consultation paper, and I urge them to carry out a comprehensive reform and to consolidate all the legislation in a single Act. I hope my Bill will serve to point the way.
That Martin Linton, Lynda Waltho, Ms Angela C. Smith, Frank Cook, Bob Russell, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Dr. Brian Iddon, Harry Cohen, Ms Diane Abbott, Chris McCafferty, Jim Sheridan and Norman Baker present the Bill.
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide-
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,
(b) for refunding an amount of tax,
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that-
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): It is a great honour to be invited to open this final day of the Budget debate and to set out the steps we are taking in my Department to support families and public services. I was disappointed to discover, just five minutes ago, that the shadow Education Secretary will not be replying to this debate after all, but may I say how pleased I am that the reply will instead be made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the shadow Business Secretary, who is someone of long experience? As a former Chancellor, Health Secretary and Education Secretary, he will know all about the dilemmas of making the sums add up and protecting front-line services-or not. I can think of nobody better to guide me, the House and the shadow Education Secretary on some of the choices before our country.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend moves on, I am sure that he will wish to recognise that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe is also wonderfully positioned to demonstrate what the Tory party in government is like at the moment, because his and my local county council has been cutting care homes and cutting services to the elderly in just the past few weeks. Indeed, I have with me a petition with the names of 1,500 people who are protesting about its actions.
Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is right about that. However, to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman some credit, I should say that he was responsible for cutting VAT as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His predecessor tried to raise VAT on fuel and that was defeated in this place by votes from those on this side of the House, so he then had the opportunity to reverse that shift in VAT. That marks him out in contrast with pretty much every other Conservative Chancellor, as they tended to raise VAT. I shall not dwell on that comparison for the moment.
The Chancellor's Budget sets out the choices we are making to secure Britain's future. The first one is to secure the recovery and promote growth and jobs while halving the deficit steadily over the next four years. The second is to match pay and spending restraint in lower priority areas with fair tax increases-the new top rate of tax, the bankers' bonus tax and the national insurance rise. Everyone will make a contribution, but 60 per cent. of the extra taxes will come from the richest 5 per cent. of the population. The third is that alongside detailed proposals for savings of £11 billion in every Government Department, including my own, action will be taken to protect front-line services, such as the police, schools and hospitals, which families need and which play such a vital role in our country.
Ed Balls: I shall give way in a moment, but I wish to make this point. The Chancellor considered proposals to cut the deficit faster and with deeper and immediate cuts, but concluded that such action would throw people out of work, threaten the recovery and lead to more debt, not less. He also rejected deeply unfair plans to cut child tax credits from middle income families and to cut child trust funds too while promising an inheritance tax cut that would benefit millionaires to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He concluded that to refuse to go ahead with the national insurance rise from next April and instead put all the burden of deficit reduction on cutting spending would require deep and savage cuts across all our public services, including our children's centres, colleges and schools. To take the road of drastic and immediate cuts in front-line services and family benefits would be reckless and unfair, and that is not this Government's choice.
I want to set out the detail of how my Department will be affected by Budget and pre-Budget report decisions, but I shall first give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). If the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has had time to learn about what is in the Budget, he will probably have thought of his intervention as well.
Mr. Cash: About two weeks ago, I asked a question about the record of the Labour county council in Staffordshire on education-specifically on the extent of A grades and on general conduct since then as compared with what is going on in the rest of the country. Unfortunately, the relevant Minister replied that he was not able to give me that information. Will the Secretary of State be good enough to accelerate the provision of that information and ensure that I get it before Dissolution?
Ed Balls: I am happy to do just that. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets the information he requests. I also point out to him that the schools in his county are currently in the Building Schools for the Future programme but have not yet reached financial close. I am sure that he will be informing his constituents in his election leaflets about the very real risks to the building of schools in his constituency if they vote for him in the forthcoming general election.
Mr. Salmond: May I go back to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? If I remember correctly, he had the misfortune of being the Health Secretary and then the Education Secretary under Margaret Thatcher. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has accepted that the cuts envisaged by this Government will be deeper and tougher than Margaret Thatcher's, so how, given that the Education Secretary is now stranded in his Department, is the Education Secretary going to reconcile that position any better than the right hon. and learned Gentleman did?
Ed Balls: The right hon. Gentleman is a student of economics and will have studied that period in great detail. I have looked at the record of that period and it is true that capital spending under the Thatcher Government was very low and stayed very low indeed throughout the entire period of her government. That is why schools were leaking, hospitals were not built and train tracks were not working. It is also true-this might have been because of the persuasion of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe; I shall come back to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) in a moment-that the education and health budgets rose during that period. However, Margaret Thatcher broke the link between pensions and earnings, froze child benefit and raised VAT from 8 to 15 per cent. within weeks of coming into office. It was all that, plus the high interest rates, that led to high and mass unemployment and devastation for millions of families. I must say that the policies of cutting benefits for families, cutting support for pensioners and, potentially, raising VAT for families to make up for a budget hole all sound rather familiar.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I hasten to interrupt the series of references to me and the rather inaccurate wanderings down memory lane. Could we get to where we are now? Has the Secretary of State come here to agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government, if re-elected, would make cuts in public spending deeper and tougher than those made by Margaret Thatcher's Government? Does he accept that statement? If so, will he go on to explain how that will affect his Department and others?
Ed Balls: I am very happy to set out the details of exactly what I am going to be doing in my budget. That is what my speech will be about. The interesting thing about the early years of the Thatcher Government is not that they cut education spending; indeed, education spending rose. What they did do, however, was raise VAT from 8 to 15 per cent. to make up a budget hole, have interest rates in double figures for many years, break the link between pensions and earnings, and freeze child benefit. There was a doubling of child poverty in those 18 years. What if we have a Conservative Government again? Rising VAT, cuts to family benefits, rising poverty, and pensioners getting a raw deal-that is exactly the prospectus on offer from the Conservative party.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm a very straightforward fact--that the growth of gross domestic product was at its greatest in the first three years of this Government? At that time, it was constrained by a fiscal regime inherited from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), but it has waivered since then.
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