HC Deb 06 July 1949 vol 466 cc2168-78

Any licence taken out under the Dog Licences Act, 1867, after the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and fifty, shall be in force from the time it is taken out until the expiration of the period of twelve months beginning with the first day of the month in which it is taken out:

Provided that this section shall not be taken as preventing the licence from being suspended under the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act, 1933, or the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) (Scotland) Act, 1934.—[Mr. Glenvil Hall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I need say very little in moving this Clause. The Committee will remember that we dealt with this last week, when I indicated on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend that we would at this stage of our proceedings insert a new Clause into the Bill which would implement the undertaking I then gave on his behalf. It will be noticed by the Committee that we have, in the words that have been put down, implemented what I then undertook to do, with the exception that there is nothing here about the certificates which are issued by justices of the peace for sheep dogs. We think that that may, perhaps, wait. We have not had time, in the short interval that has elapsed between our proceedings last week and now, to consult justices of the peace on this matter, and it may well be that they may prefer to continue to give those certificates, as they do now, in the early part of the year, rather than have their work spread over the whole of the 12 months. Apart from that, I think it will be agreed that we have implemented the undertaking we then gave.

Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)

I tried to intervene when this matter was raised before, but because of the pressure of time I subsided. I should like now, on behalf of all those of all parties who are interested in animal welfare, to thank my right hon. Friend for meeting our wish in this generous and effective way. In a way, it was easy to grant, in that it involves little, if any, loss to the Exchequer. I suggest that it may well mean an increase of income, because what has happened so far is that a person has had to decide at the end of about six months whether or not to keep a dog or turn it adrift. People will now have a longer period in which the dog can become house trained, and, therefore, more likely to command affection. After six months one's memory may not be so good. Therefore, I suggest that this may mean more revenue than before. So, on behalf of all those who are interested in this matter, I express thanks for this new Clause.

Captain Crookshank

We had no doubt, after the assurance given at an earlier stage, that this Clause would appear. In fact, it is one of the two terrific concessions to our Debates by the Chancellor. We have not reached the other one yet.

Sir S. Cripps

By the Financial Secretary.

Captain Crookshank

Does he not speak for the Chancellor? I was under the impression he did. He gets the credit for the very small things, I quite agree. However, this is a useful change from the point of view of the Post Office, because it spreads the work at the counter over a longer period. Anyone who has been in touch with that Department knows that at the beginning of the year there is a great rush of business, which one would like to reduce as far as possible, because the staff always have had inevitably a tremendously difficult time during the Christmas period. Anything that the Chancellor, or anyone else so far as that goes, can do to reduce the strain of work in January for the Post Office servants is of importance.

I have grave doubts whether or not this will have any effect on the revenue because presumably the citizens are law-abiding and will take out the licences regularly as they fall due. I do not see how, in the long run, unless the dog population increases tremendously, there can be any advantage to the revenue. I was a little surprised when the right hon. Gentleman said that they had not been able to deal with the question of sheep dogs for whom licences have to be applied for to the magistrates.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

They are certificates of exemption for sheep dogs and not licences.

Captain Crookshank

I am sorry if I put it the wrong way round. I was surprised that he had not been able to deal with the sheep dog situation. I know that is a question of getting exemptions and that these exemptions have to be obtained from the magistrates. I can quite understand that in the short time given us this year between the Committee stage and the Report stage of the Bill, owing to the Whitsun Recess, that he obviously has not had time to consult every one concerned; but presumably he is going to have consultations and that at some time another necessary change will have to be made. I suggest that when he consults the magistrates he should also do so on the question of whether this is a matter for the magistrates at all. It seems unnecessarily troublesome that benches of magistrates should have to deal with the exemption of sheep dogs; this is a matter which might be left to the police to deal with.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)

May I interrupt to say that in the district with which I am acquainted, the procedure is that the police make a formal, collective and comprehensive application to the bench for sheep dog exemptions? That may not apply anywhere else, but I suggest that if it does not, it is a useful procedure to follow. The police check up on the sheep dogs and make one single application to the bench, which is granted almost automatically.

Captain Crookshank

Why waste the time of the bench even to that extent? When the Police are making out the lists, why should not they be the authority to deal with the exemptions? I put that to the right hon. Gentleman for further consideration. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham that we do not want to add anything unnecessary and cumbersome in these days. Therefore, as there is time to consider the matter, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will inquire into that point. We on this side of the Committee welcome this change, and I do so particularly because I am certain that it will bring some small measure of relief to the hard-worked Post Office servants at a time of the year when they need it most.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I feel sure that the Committee will agree that this is a commonsensical Clause which might have been introduced many years ago. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will consult with his right hon. Friend and colleague, the Postmaster-General, to see whether it is not possible for dog licences to be issued at every post office. In remote rural areas one may have to go six miles to a post office to obtain a dog licence, although there may be a sub-post office in the village. It would be a great convenience to everyone if every post office could issue a dog licence.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

I do not think that we ought to allow this Clause to go without asking the Government whether they have looked into the point raised by the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare). The hon. Member has had great experience of local government, and he suggested that this new proposal would mean much more work in reminding people to take out licences. Have the Government looked into that question, and are they satisfied that the additional work devolving on the local authorities will not be considerable? I was glad to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that he had a concession for every one, starting with the dogs. We shall later ask for a concession for the "vermin," and I hope that he will give it.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I think that it would be wrong if those of us who took part at an earlier stage in the discussion on this matter of dog licences did not thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Financial Secretary who made this change, for this small crumb which is the only thing that has fallen to us in the whole of the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. For that reason, I welcome this change of the 12 months' period for the issue of the licences, and I think that, on the whole, it will be a considerable help to Post Office workers. Whether it will also help the police, who have some difficulties in this matter, I do not know, but perhaps before we part with this Clause we may have some information as to what consultations have taken place with the police on this matter.

It will be remembered that when we were dealing with this proposal at an earlier stage, a suggestion was made that, instead of licensing a dog for one year, it should be licensed for its life. I should have thought that would have been a pretty fair gamble in these days, and if an owner took out a licence for, say, six years, the Government would get immediately quite a considerable amount of revenue. It would be possible, I think, for me to move an Amendment to alter the time from 12 months. We should ask the Financial Secretary whether he has considered that proposal. A dog might be licensed for five or eight years or whatever the estimated life of a dog is considered to be.

That would result in getting a nice little sum in taxation at the present time and, possibly, in the future do away with a great deal of administrative work. I see that an hon. Lady opposite is receiving that suggestion with obvious pleasure, and perhaps she will be prepared to support it. The other matter to which I wish to call attention is the proviso. I am not certain where we stand with regard to it, although I realise it is necessary to have it. I should like a little further explanation of what is done under it.

Miss Colman (Tynemouth)

I am not expressing pleasure at the hon. Gentleman's proposal. I should like, as I put down a Clause on the Committee stage, to add my thanks to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Symonds) to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary for the trouble which he has taken in this matter. I can assure him that he will have the gratitude of dog lovers and dog owners everywhere.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)

Speaking from a local government point of view, I shall be perfectly frank in saying that I do not particularly agree with this proposal. I should have thought that if every dog had to be licensed on a certain date of the year, not necessarily January, it would be easier from the administrative point of view. The more we can cut down administrative work the better, and it would help if the Financial Secretary could tell us whether he has had a word with local authorities about this. I feel rather strongly on the matter, and I believe that the local authorities will react unfavourably to this proposal, because it creates unnecessary work.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), I would point out that in the old days when notifications were sent round to tell people that the licence was due, the dog owner invariably renewed the licence. During the war, when that practice was stopped, dog owners forgot, and were taken up to the courts and fined. That happened in my own case. I am therefore all in favour of the suggestion that an annual notification should be given to the dog owner, who might be a very busy man and may not remember that on 1st January, or whatever the day may be, he must send in a cheque for his dog licence. I hope that the provision for notification will be retained in this new Clause.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I shall certainly bear that point in mind. Reminders for the renewal of wireless licences are, of course, sent out automatically. That does cause a certain amount of work, although it is of great convenience to the licence holders. I suppose almost every hon. Member has had cause to be grateful for a reminder about the renewal of wireless licences.

We shall also bear in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith). In a sense, it is not for me to say; it is a matter we shall have to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General to see whether it is possible for that suggestion to be implemented. For my part, I should like to see it happen. No one likes to have to walk five or six miles to pay 7s. 6d. to take out a licence. It must be pointed out, however, that most people who live in villages go to their nearest town occasionally, and they could combine the taking out of a licence with other business. However, I will put the suggestion to the Postmaster-General and see what is his reaction to it. Knowing him as I do, I am positive that if it is possible to do it he will.

Mr. C. Williams

Will the right hon. Gentleman also examine it from the point of view of those in very remote districts? It would be an enormous help in country districts everywhere—in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. It is easy for people living in cities, where everything is close at hand, but it would be an immense advantage to those living in remote districts if this suggestion could be adopted.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I shall certainly call my right hon. Friend's attention to this Debate, and I am sure he will read it and consider the views now expressed by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who also suggested that a dog might, as it were, take out a life membership; that is to say, a licence should be issued for the duration of the life of the dog. When we discussed this question before and he raised this same point, it was pointed out that the licence is not issued for a particular dog named Toby, or whatever it may be; it is issued to an individual to keep a dog. If the dog dies during the year the licence does not die with the dog, but goes on. That would, I think, prevent his suggestion being adopted, and I am afraid I can hold out no hope to him that that can be considered.

The main point made has been whether we have consulted local authorities. As I indicated the other evening when this matter was raised, time has been very short and it has been impossible to discuss this with local authorities. I am sorry that that has been so. However, we have done what we could to get in touch with associations representing local authorities, and up to the moment there appears to be no real feeling against this on the part of local authorities. I should say, in fairness, that the London County Council have been to see me, and I have discussed the matter with them. They are a little fearful whether this will not mean more work for them in the years ahead. It is impossible to say whether or not it will mean more work. We can only wait and see and judge by experience what effect it has on the work of local authorities.

I think their real fear is that it may lead to greater evasion. I can hardly imagine that it will mean a great deal of extra work, even in the office, because the same number of licences will be taken out during the year. Although under the new system the licences will gradually be spread over the whole 12 months, the number on the register will be the same, or thereabouts; it will be spread over 12 months instead of appearing in one month. As I see it, the volume will be much the same, because we changed the system as from next year, 1950, not now, and the great proportion of dog licences will be taken out in January, so that the change will only take effect over a period. I can assure both those hon. Members who have asked these questions and the local authorities that we shall watch this over a period to see what effect it has on both the revenue of local authorities and the amount of work which will fall upon them. Apart from that, I think everyone is agreed that this is an excellent reform, and one which we should implement if we can.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

Could the Financial Secretary apply his mind to the other side of the argument, namely, the possibility of attaching a licence to a man, and licensing dog ownership for the man's life? That might relieve a great deal of the administrative difficulty. I do not know whether his Department have any actuarial calculations about this, to show whether it would work.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

If we did that possibly some bright individual would start issuing insurance policies to dogs in order to insure the lives of their masters.

Mr. C. Williams

When I raised the question of licences for longer periods—

The Chairman

That point is really out of Order. I gave the hon. Gentleman an opportunity of raising it in a word or two, although it is really quite out of Order at this stage.

Mr. Williams

The point I wish to raise is whether the period could, be changed from 12 months to, say 60 months. Is that out of Order?

The Chairman

I am afraid it is out of Order on the ground that it might involve a charge. I could not therefore allow any Amendment to be put forward, so that this matter cannot be discussed. In the hope that it might be the shortest way home I did allow the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter, but I am afraid we cannot have any further discussion on it.

Mr. Williams

I am perfectly willing to put it from this point of view: that the period should be extended but for the same price. May I argue it from that point of view? I think the cost of collecting is so high that ultimately it would pay the Chancellor to give one licence once and for all. From that point of view, I very much regret that the opportunity has not been taken to give people the chance of taking out a licence for a longer period, or else a licence for a particular dog. It will be very difficult to make these points at any other stage, and I wish to put them forward now, because since the Exchequer has had its mind concentrated on this it might be a good thing to try to make this provision more practical.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

The Financial Secretary said he had not consulted local authorities because he had not the time to do so between the Committee and the Report stages. If that is the case, it seems almost intolerable that the Government, not having themselves had time for full consultation on their own new Clause, with the full weight of their Department behind them, should expect the Opposition to be able to discuss this important matter, and I wish to register my protest.

4.30 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I want to make one point. Amid the pæan of praise for the freedom of the dogs, we must not lose sight of the fact that what the right hon. Gentleman has just announced is a very minute concession indeed. In point of fact, existing holders of dog licences do not get any advantage whatever. The licences, owing to their having been bought on 1st January, will always have to be taken out on 1st January. Therefore, the only people whom this affects at all are the people who are now not dog owners but who at some future time get a dog. Is that right?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Not necessarily.

Captain Crookshank

I should like to have it quite clear. My impression of what the right hon. Gentleman said is that there will not be any great release of labour, because the only people who will benefit are those who will take out a dog licence for the first time, and that licence will run from the time when it was originally taken out, and will be repeated on that date each year.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Not altogether. To a certain extent, the people who have now got to renew their dog licences will be renewing them in January, because they will fall due then. I am told that the average life of a dog in London is about eight or nine years. If someone in London gets a dog now, probably it will die within a given period.

Captain Crookshank

It is a certainty.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That being so, that individual will either not have another dog or he will buy a pup. That pup will have a free run of six months. Therefore, that individual will take out a licence not on 1st January, but at some period during the year. That being so, the longer this reform runs, the more people there will be taking out licences at other dates in the year than in January.

Captain Crookshank

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but it does not clear up the question I was putting to him. The right hon. Gentleman has a dog which lives for eight or nine years. It is not a question of its probably dying; it will certainly die at the end of a certain time, unless the right hon. Gentleman has discovered some extraordinary breed which the fate of human nature does not touch. I forget what the right hon. Gentleman called his dog on some previous occasion, but we will call it Toby. Toby dies in August, and as I understood from what the right hon. Gentleman said in his second or third intervention, the licence goes on until 1st January. Then he tells us that he will probably buy a pup. The puppy will be covered by that licence until 1st January, and on 1st January he will renew the licence. He will go on renewing the licence on 1st January for eight or nine years. Is that right, because that is what I understood from the right hon. Gentleman's speech?

Mr. Bechervaise (Leyton, East)

It does not necessarily follow that all dogs die in August.

Captain Crookshank

There is something about a dog's day, but I do not think that that is necessarily connected with its mortality. The right hon. Gentleman once having had a dog, he would always have to license it on 1st January, and other people are in the same position. If a dog dies in the middle of the year and the owner gets a puppy, the licence carries over until 1st January, when it must be renewed. What I was trying to point out was that the concession is an extremely small one, because it can only arise in the case of some relative of the right hon. Gentleman or any other dog owner who never had a dog but who decides to keep one. If he gets it in July or August and takes out a licence then, the renewal of that licence will take place in July or August. Therefore, the concession really applies to all future owners of dogs, because all existing owners of dogs, owing to the fact that their licences are not connected with a particular dog but with doggery, will have to go on renewing them on 1st January. In spite of all the congratulatory speeches made, this concession does not really amount to anything at all, except that in future the people who acquire dogs during the course of the year will have those licences renewed at a particular day.

Miss Colman

A puppy does not have a licence for six months.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Bill reported with an Amendment; as amended (in Committee and on recommittal) considered.