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Earl Peel: My Lords, I am obliged. Perhaps the Minister could respond to my other question. In view of the fact that those very important items were deleted in another place and are now covered by the catch-all provision in paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 2, I asked the Minister whether it would be possible for them to be mentioned in the code of practice. They are so important that, quite frankly, it would be disingenuous not to draw the general public's attention to them as being an offence under the Bill.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am being careful not to commit myself absolutely to putting anything in the code that will become the responsibility of the Countryside Agency. However, no doubt this is an issue which the agency should address for the sake of clarification--
Lord Monson: My Lords, is depositing rubbish or leaving litter a criminal offence? I accept that the other subjects referred in Amendment No. 40 are criminal offences, but surely leaving rubbish is not actually criminal?
I turn to Amendment No. 37, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This amendment would add a restriction of interfering with any written notice or warning without reasonable excuse. We consider that the various activities that this might include are already covered by the restrictions in the sense that debasing or uprooting a sign would clearly be criminal damage in any case. If the sign were vandalised or moved, the criminal damage would be caused. Therefore, it is already covered.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for accepting that our Amendment No. 33 might be slightly superior to his own. However, he does not seem to accept the same in relation to Amendment No. 39. Our amendment is slightly wider in that it relates to tampering with anything. Clearly that would include tampering with any fences, notices or anything that was erected to protect a particular feature that may be dangerous, or which may require information to be conveyed. We therefore think that the question of a mine shaft is covered, as are other features. If we were to specify mine shafts, the effect of the clause might, by omission, imply that those items not mentioned were not covered. We believe that our general clause is better.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister indicated that our amendment is covered through general provisions. But is there any difference between warnings, fences and barriers? If tampering with a notice is a criminal offence, then surely breaking down a fence is also a criminal offence.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there may be a point of logic in that to which I cannot quickly respond. However, if someone climbs over a fence and inadvertently damages it, that may not actually be a criminal offence in itself. We are talking here about deliberate damage to a notice. I believe that that is what lies behind the noble Baroness's amendment. The situation is clearly covered.
Amendment No. 41 simply defines a "short lead" as a fixed short lead, not an expandable, "fishing line" lead which allow dogs to range freely. Amendment No. 43 merely deletes certain paragraphs which would become unnecessary if Amendment No. 32 were accepted.
The Bill already recognises that dogs off leads can cause harm in that it excludes dogs off leads from certain land between March and July. Government Amendment No. 118 recognises that dogs can cause harm to grouse and to lambing. However, the Government do not appear to consider the position of other wildlife, pregnant sheep, sheep which have young lambs or other stock. Dogs off leads have no place in the provisions of the Bill. The Bill allows people to roam across country; it does not allow dogs to roam freely.
I do not know but I suspect that few serious ramblers want to take dogs with them. Those who want to walk the dog do so on footpaths or in their local areas. Even if some ramblers wished to take their dogs with them, it would be wholly unbalanced to allow dogs to roam loose and to damage the occupier, the land and the fauna and flora on it. If a dog is to be allowed access to the land in question, it must be kept on a lead. The right to roam must not be extended to dogs. Once a dog is off the lead, it may become uncontrollable and may chase animals and scare birds off their nests. That danger appears to be recognised as regards grouse but does not appear to be recognised as regards any other bird. A dog off the lead can cause infinite damage and enormous trouble to an owner. This Bill should not concern itself with dogs off leads. I beg to move.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, Amendment No. 45 which stands in my name is concerned with the matter we are discussing. I should be greatly obliged if the noble Lord did not press his amendment for the following reason. However, I shall mention other reasons later.
We have heard of the dangers and hazards in access areas. Often search parties spend long hours on cold nights looking for missing people. They might not find them without the help of rescue dogs. One cannot keep a rescue dog on the lead if it is to do its job properly. I understand the reservations and the anxieties that the noble Lord has mentioned but I believe that a slightly different approach needs to be adopted.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I make a plea on behalf of all those hill farmers who raise sheep--as I used to do--for whom the issue of dogs is critical. If a dog which has a taste for chasing sheep runs loose off the lead on a moor it will become uncontrollable. At certain times of the year it can cause thousands of pounds worth of damage. The crop for a hill farmer is lambs. If sheep heavy with lamb are chased the farmer will lose perhaps many lambs. A large dog can pull down a ewe. There must be provision in the Bill for dogs to be kept under control if one is to have the support of the hill farming community.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment. I agree with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I declare an interest as someone who has always had a dog--some more controllable than others. We have a rescue gun dog; we took her in at the age of three. She is well trained but,
Earl Peel: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I have an identical amendment which is grouped separately, and somewhat cleverly, with government Amendment No. 118 relating to dogs on grouse moors. I have no doubt that that has been done in order to silence me! However, I shall welcome the Minister's amendment with open arms. But that does not detract from the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, raises an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is right. I suggest that this is probably the most crucial issue.
The Government have come a long way. We shall discuss Amendment No. 118 which I welcome. But dogs will be a problem on any land. Wildlife, livestock and game birds exist on land other than grouse moors. We cannot ignore those areas. It is obvious that dogs on extended leads will cause more disturbance than those on short leads. There are increasing numbers of those leads--the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, described them as fishing lines--which can extend to 20 or 30 yards. A dog on an extended lead will inevitably be considerably more out of control than a dog on a short lead.
I draw noble Lords' attention to the independent report produced by Professor Hudson for the Countryside Agency. He concluded that dogs were seven times more likely than humans to create disturbance to wildlife. I suggest that a dog on a long lead, which is to all intents and purposes out of control, comes into that category. I believe that the majority of dog owners would agree the principle that the Bill is about people; it is not about dogs. Any greater degree of freedom accorded to people must come with additional responsibility. Part of that responsibility is keeping dogs under control. Under control inevitably means short leads. I welcome the noble Viscount's amendment.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I support the amendment and the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Within the past fortnight I have read in a respected broadsheet newspaper that 24,000 sheep a year are killed by dogs. That seems a staggering figure. However, no one has challenged the report so I can only assume that it is true.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I apologise for intervening in the debate so late. I support the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. Many people will say that their dogs have never chased sheep. We must remember that a dog is a natural enemy to a sheep and a sheep will run when it sees a dog. Similarly, a cow
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