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The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for allowing me to intervene. I thought I had explained that we are not talking about the faeces of horses; we are talking about the faeces of dogs which habitually live in riding stables and go with the riding team.
In relation to private owners, we believe that they are put in a secure position by the Bill. Private land can only be designated if it is open to the air and the public have access, and it is not one of the types of land described in Clause 1. The designation procedure will allow landowners to make representations. Even if the local authority decides to go ahead with the designation, the owner, occupier or other person having control of the land can agree generally or in specific cases that dog mess need not be cleared up. I believe that that puts private owners into the position where they need not be concerned in any way about the effects of this Bill.
As regards trespass, that would not be relevant at all, as designations can be made only on land to which the public are permitted or are entitled to have access. So land where the offence of trespass is possible cannot be designated. As regards some of the other small points which my noble friend raised, Hampstead Heath is not a heath and it is also City land so it will come under Clause 1(4). "Woodland" is land used for woodlands, as was said in another place. It is very much a question of it being commercial woodland or having other purposes. We do not see any reason why dog walkers should be exempt and the dogs be allowed to foul land any more than any others.
As regards diarrhoetic dogs, that would count as reasonable excuse, as would offences committed by dogs belonging to arthritic 80 year-olds. On the question of children exercising dogs, that will very much depend on the circumstances as to whether they should be expected to have control. If sporting dogs are at large in the areas to which this Bill applies, we do not see why they should have any special exemption.
It is not possible to address all the detailed points which my noble friend makes. Clause 1 sets out descriptions of land which local authorities cannot designate. The Bill does not seek to identify "urban" because of the practical difficulties of finding a suitable definition. That is why the Bill takes the approach that it does. The alternative suggested by my noble friend would be just as fraught as he suggests Clause 1 to be.
This Bill also introduces the concept of a fixed penalty for the offence created under it. The Government fully support that. It will mean that local authorities shall be able to enforce the new offence without every offender having to go to court.
As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, much can be done by education and partnership between local authorities and the general public. Indeed, I had the pleasure this year to present the local authority "Good Dog" awards backed by Pedigree Petfoods. Indeed, I presented them in the Pedigree Cholmondeley Room, which seemed to me to be very appropriate!
We clearly need stronger and more effective legislative back-up than we have at the moment. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said, this Bill is no panacea and there is nothing that is perfection about this legislation, although it is a considerable improvement on where we are at the moment. The
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I take this opportunity to thank my noble friends Lord Bradford and Lord Jenkin of Roding for their support. I am pleased to have confirmation of the backing of both the Tidy Britain Group and the Corporation of the City of London.
I referred in my introduction to the improved Clause 1 which enables the Corporation and others to take responsibility for their own by-laws. It is gratifying to note that they already have plans well in hand for making Epping Forest, and other areas under their control, cleaner and safer places should the Bill be enacted.
I am bound to say to my noble friend Lord Harrowby that I believe his anxieties to be misplaced. As a general principle, the difficulties of interpretation to which my noble friend alludes, do not present problems to the existing by-law system. The reality is that the powers of designation granted under the Bill to local authorities are in no way any greater than those to which they already have access under the by-laws system.
That said, I shall read my noble friend's remarks very diligently in Hansard tomorrow and give them all due consideration. No doubt we shall return to them in greater detail at Committee stage. I am grateful also for the support of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. My wife, like the noble Lord's wife, is much more rigorous over this issue than myself. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for his albeit qualified support and to my noble friend the Minister. I can but hope that, notwithstanding the anxieties of my noble friend Lord Harrowby, the general enthusiasm for the provisions of the Bill presages a fair wind for its passage during its remaining stages. I commend the Bill to the House.
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