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Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, having carefully read the report of the Committee debates about dogs, I entirely support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about hill farming. The Minister seemed to give the impression in Committee that the majority of lambing happened off the hills and in lambing sheds, so the problems would not arise. That is not so. The majority of hill lambs, such as black faced lambs and Cheviots, are lambed on the hill. If there are dogs on the hill at the time, the risks are increased substantially.
The Government should consider the issue carefully. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, put the matter very well. This is not a Bill to allow dogs to roam where they like; it is designed to deal with people. They have to accept that their dogs must be under control. That is not universally accepted.
I occasionally go to the United States. In Maryland, dogs can never be taken for a walk without a short lead, even in urban areas. The police enforce that law rigorously. It is not unusual to insist on dogs being under control. We have an opportunity to do something really helpful to hill farmers, who are going through a dreadful period at the moment.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I may be a lone voice in the Chamber this evening, but I do not support Amendment No. 43. When we debated the issue at Second Reading, I said that, as someone who was born and brought up in the countryside and had lived most of my life there, I believed that dogs should be firmly restricted in the countryside. I was pleased when I saw the Bill. There had been a wide debate before it was published and a lot of views had been put forward about when dogs should be on leads. I felt that the Minister had walked the tightrope of those views well and the Bill was a good compromise.
I do not want the restrictions on dogs to be removed. I am pleased that the protection for sitting birds on all access land has been extended until the end of July. I had supported that previously. I am pleased that measures have been adopted to regulate dogs in the vicinity of livestock. That is also sensible. Under Chapter II, local restrictions can be made to suit any area. That is important, because the countryside differs from area to area. Your Lordships have given graphic descriptions of many different areas.
I make a plea for retaining the restrictions on dogs in the schedule, because local restrictions can be made under Chapter II. For example, in hill farming areas local authorities can introduce restrictions to suit local conditions.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I support the amendment. Like my noble friend Lord Peel, I think that dogs are probably the most important issue in the Bill. Like most of those who have spoken, I am a dog owner and a dog lover. I would take my dog anywhere if I could, but it is vital to keep them away from
Short leads are vital. We keep talking about dogs being out of control. As has already been said, it does not matter so much what the dog is doing; the important fact is the dog's presence. If a dog is 10 yards off a track going past a nest because it is on a long lead, the effect is the same as if it were off the lead and running wild. It will push the hen off the nest. It is absolutely essential that dogs are on short leads. A dog on a long lead has the same effect as one off the lead. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, for the reasons stated by other noble Lords, we on these Benches certainly support the concept of defining a lead as being of fixed length. We believe that the suggested restrictions in relation to dogs are a positive move forward in setting out what is expected of dog owners.
However, perhaps of all the issues that require the most thought from the Government in respect of persistent offenders, the one relating to dogs is the most difficult. Dog owners frequently walk the same route, and those who offend by frequently letting their dogs off the lead when they should not do so are likely to continue to follow that pattern. As a dog owner, I know how much fun a dog has when it is off the lead. Certainly, the temptation is to allow it to be off the lead more than it should be.
I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply to Amendment No. 42. I have some reservations about being more restrictive in relation to dogs than we need to be. There is no doubt that some people much enjoy walking with their dogs, but the interests of livestock must certainly be at the forefront of our considerations when we discuss these amendments. I believe that we are three-quarters of the way there in terms of restrictions on dogs, but there is still a little way to go.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I had hoped that the noble Baroness would be a little more forthcoming. As usual, she is sitting on the fence. She is saying that a restriction in terms of a fixed length for leads is required, but she refuses to tell the House what length of lead she believes dogs should be on.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am sorry. Perhaps I should have expanded on the matter, but I was trying to save the time of the House. The noble Earl may remember that in Committee I tabled an amendment which specified two metres in length.
I thoroughly support what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said. At Second Reading I mentioned an incident that I witnessed in Richmond Park in which a dog chased deer. Such incidents will be far worse on the open hill.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, although the noble Earl, Lord Peel, suggests that we cleverly group these amendments, the amendments are not the Government's choice. In my view, we have probably grouped the amendments quite illogically in that there are seven groups on dogs. Perhaps it would have been useful to discuss the various options together. In order to avoid future repetition, I believe that it may be sensible if I set out the Government's case.
First, I accept the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that this Bill concerns the rights of people rather than those of dogs. I might have been rather more convinced of the case for restricting dogs had the same arguments not come from noble Lords who have spent most of the evening arguing for greater restrictions on people in terms of access to the countryside. Nevertheless, I recognise that significant anxiety exists in relation to dogs in the countryside. Therefore, I believe that it is sensible to address these issues.
However, I believe that dog owners have rights, too. Dog owners are also people and many of them in the countryside wish to use access land, particularly that situated close to villages, in order to exercise their dogs. Therefore, a degree of balance is required in the approach to dogs as it is in the approach to other matters.
The Government have considered carefully all the points made at earlier stages. The totality of our position, as largely outlined by my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, is that we have provided a fairly comprehensive restriction in relation to the management of dogs in the countryside.
First, we said that dogs must be kept on lead on all access land for four months of the year, from 1st March to 31st July. We said that they must always be on lead at all times in the vicinity of livestock on any access land. We have given the landowner powers to exclude dogs from fields or areas in which lambing is taking place and to exclude dogs from moors which are managed for grouse shooting, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said. That includes vast tracts of the countryside available for access. We have made provision for stronger local restrictions on dogs including complete bans on dogs where that is necessary for specific local reasons. Those bans could be reinforced by by-laws.
I am prepared to consider one further change relating to the question of short leads. I am not prepared to accept the noble Viscount's amendment which requires short leads at all times in all places on all access land. That is, to put it at its mildest, excessive. Where we define requirements for dogs to be on lead, then the requirement that they be on short leads should apply and the two metres referred to in the recent exchange between the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, would be appropriate. There are some difficulties here in that an extendable lead can be used as a short lead, but that can probably be addressed.
Beyond that, I do not believe that we should move further in restricting dogs in access land. Are we saying that in all these acres about to be opened to access there should be no place--a bit of commonland close to the village, a bit of downland where historically people have tried to exercise dogs and have been legally forbidden to do so--where we can allow a dog to run free? That would send a very odd message to millions of dog owners, particularly those who live in the countryside.
The package of amendments that the Government is putting forward in the Bill and in Amendment No. 118 meet most of the specific objections to dogs or dogs running loose. The amendment of the noble Viscount goes too far. I hope he will not press it.
I shall not repeat this on subsequent amendments, but apart from Amendments Nos. 46 and 49 I will not favour the subsequent amendments either.
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