Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: I shall deal first with the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. He will be aware that we are extremely sceptical on the subject of dog registration. That is likely to remain the case.

I am concerned about what the noble Lord said about practice in primary schools. I am not aware of anything of the kind happening. I will ask my colleagues and I will write to the noble Lord if I find any evidence of that.

So far as concerns picking up faeces in a plastic bag, if the noble Lord will provide an acceptable substitute—say a pile of crumpled up £10 notes—I shall demonstrate how it is done without it touching your hand.

In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, I am afraid that I cannot give the comfort that he asks. We are committed to consulting widely on how the power might be used.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Surely the department must have some idea of how it proposes to use the power. It cannot be asking for a wide power just for the hell of it in the hope that it will come in useful at some later stage.

Lord Lucas: No. The Government's objective is to create regulations which will solve any problems that there might be in practice as regards working dogs. That would cover sheepdogs, which the noble and learned Lord mentioned. It would also cover hunting dogs.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Designation orders]:

5.15 p.m.

Lord Palmer moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 40, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

30 Oct 1995 : Column 1307

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Allenby I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 7 in my name.

While welcoming the broad principle of this Bill, I am sure your Lordships will agree—and many have mentioned tonight the speed with which this Bill is going through—that we must be very wary of being pressured into reneging our responsibility as the revising Chamber simply because the legislative timetable is tight, however many pressure groups clamour for our inaction. This is especially the case with Bills which involve animals (a similar situation will no doubt arise tomorrow with the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill) when arguments are often emotive and passions run high. Surely the time available for the consideration of a Bill should have no effect on whether we scrutinise it properly. We should not pass Bills which we consider flawed simply because a flawed Bill is worth, to some, more than no Bill at all.

Although this Bill does not deal with dangerous dogs but rather nuisance dogs, we should be aware that the Dangerous Dogs Act passed through this House in a hurry and many people have suffered injustice as a result. I fear that this Bill, as it stands in its present form, also grants unacceptably draconian powers and will give rise to cases of injustice.

The purpose of the amendments is to place a firm duty on local authorities to consult with local people when designating land by description for the purposes of this Bill as well as ensuring that the Secretary of State shall, by regulations, prescribe the form of orders made under Clause 3(1).

At present Clause 3(2) gives local authorities wide new powers to designate land by description as well as by special reference. Under Clause 1, any land can be designated which is

    "open to the air and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access".

That is a substantial increase in remit, as opposed to the existing by-law regime, as well as making designation far easier. It is not only anomalous but potentially dangerous that these increased powers given to local authorities should be coupled with the removal of the statutory duty for these authorities to consult those who may be affected.

The honourable Member from another place who introduced this Private Member's Bill has himself said:

    "there will be a need to advertise these proposals locally to enable representations to be made".

But he continued:

    "However, experience with by-laws has shown that poop scoop proposals are very rarely controversial and do not normally attract objections".

That may well be the case in urban areas where there are extensive footpaths to be fouled and where residents vote with their feet. Scooping poops might prove more controversial within rural communities where pooping without scooping is not yet regarded as a heinous practice which might be stamped out. I dare to say that many people in these areas are not prepared to walk around with a pooper scooper to avoid being prosecuted.

30 Oct 1995 : Column 1308

Whether that is the case or not, local consultations will be vital and it is surely no argument to drop the duty to consult simply because consultations have not met with objections in the past. Powers have been increased here and consultations are all the more vital. They must be a duty.

Such an important defect in the Bill should not be left to the Secretary of State to correct. That is certainly the case with this Bill, as there is not even a statutory requirement that he should prescribe by regulations what procedures the local authority is to use in designating land. The first of the amendments addresses this issue directly: it makes such prescriptions by the Secretary of State a duty.

At Committee stage in the other place the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough argued that this point was:

    "running with the hare—because most of these areas are unlikely to be designated".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee C, 14/6/95; col. 26.]

But, unlikely though it may seem, we could envisage cases where essentially urban-minded councillors could unleash essentially urban views of dog defecation on rural areas.

For farmers and country people generally, the concept of responsible dog ownership, as applied in the Bill, is simply not applicable. That was defined by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, at Second Reading when he said:

    "Responsible dog owning is about having control of one's pet at all times. By implication, if one is unaware of its actions one does not have adequate control of it".—[Official Report, 19/10/95; col. 848.]

Quite often, the owners of dogs who exercise them in rural areas lose sight of them, and this by definition would have been deemed to lose "adequate control" of their pet. The same goes for the exercising of more than one dog at a time.

It may be argued that the question of "shall" or "may" which the amendment addresses is a matter of semantics. The Pet Advisory Committee has suggested that it is already clear that the Secretary of State must lay out detailed regulations by which designation orders will be made and the means by which they will be publicised and consulted upon. However, there is nothing on the face of the Bill as it stands which makes it a duty for the Secretary of State to provide local authorities with procedural advice in making designations either specifically or by description. Neither is there any statutory duty on the Secretary of State to include within regulations provision requiring local authorities to publicise the making and effect of any proposed designation. Without that statutory duty there is no assurance that local consultations will take place, and these will be of vital importance.

These amendments would go some way in offering people the opportunity to voice such concerns should designation be planned. Although they are simple amendments they are necessary amendments given the sweeping new powers that the Bill gives authorities to designate far wider areas with far greater ease as "no poop without scoop" areas.

30 Oct 1995 : Column 1309

I have received support from all of your Lordships on this issue. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: We have no position one way or the other on these two amendments. I can confirm that the Secretary of State intends to use the powers referred to in Amendment No. 6 to make regulations if the Bill is enacted. The Government consider it important to set out the form of designation order and procedure to give some consistency across the country.

On Amendment No. 7, I can confirm that if the Bill is enacted, the Secretary of State intends to include provision in the regulations for the local authority to publicise the making and effect of the orders referred to in the amendment. He intends that that shall be the case whether the land is to be designated specifically or by description.

The Earl of Northesk: As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, correctly identified, the Bill, as drafted, does not include any requirement for the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the form of designation orders and the procedure to be followed by local authorities in the making of such orders. Nor is there any provision that the local authority must follow the form and procedures set out in any regulations. I accept therefore that if the Secretary of State did not use that power, local authorities could establish their own forms and procedures. That would be wholly undesirable not only because it would raise inconsistencies but also because many local authorities might feel that it creates uncertainty as to what is appropriate. Therefore, they might be reluctant to use the new powers. Clearly that is antipathetic to one of the Bill's primary purposes: to simplify and rationalise the existing by-law procedure.

The Minister explained, and it is my understanding, that the Secretary of State intends to make regulations should the Bill be enacted. Nevertheless, I can see upon reflection that it may well be better to amend the Bill to ensure that such regulations are made as a matter of course. Therefore I do not seek to oppose Amendment No. 6.

Equally, the noble Lord is quite right in his insistence that there should be publicity in the case of designations of land by description. I would go further. Local people should be forewarned that the local authority intended to produce any legislation which would require people to clear up after their dogs. As the Minister again explained, and as I am sure in my own mind, should the Bill be enacted, the Government would include requirement for publicity in the regulations. Unfortunately, as drafted the amendment seeks to ensure that the regulations cover this matter but only in as much as they relate to designations of land by description. I believe that the provision should apply to all categories of land that the local authority may seek to designate. Furthermore, I am uncertain whether the amended clause would be technically deficient because of the retention of the words "in particular" after the added words. Thus I regret that I cannot support the wording

30 Oct 1995 : Column 1310

of Amendment No. 7 although I hope that the noble Lord will be comforted by my indication of approval for the principle of ensuring local publicity.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page