- '.—(1) A person shall not keep a dog at guard dog kennels unless he holds a licence under section (Guard dog kennel licences) of this Act in respect of the kennels.
- (2) A person shall not use or permit the use at any premises of a guard dog if he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that the dog (when not being used as a guard dog) is normally kept at guard dog kennels in breach of subsection (1) of this section.—[Mr. Doig.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Speaker
It will be convenient to take also new Clause 2—Guard dog kennel licences:
and Amendment No. 9, in Clause 4, page 2, line 15, at beginning insert:
- '.—(1) A local authority may on the application in the prescribed form of, and on payment of the prescribed fee by, a person who runs or intends to run guard dog kennels at premises within their area grant that person a licence in respect of those kennels.
- (2) A licence under this section shall be made subject to the prescribed conditions (if any) and to such other conditions as the local authority thinks fit.
- (3) A licence under this section shall, subject to regulations, come into force on a date specified in the licence as the commencement date and shall expire at the end of the period of twelve months beginning with that date unless it is cancelled by a court in pursuance of the following subsection.
- (4)Where a person is convicted of an offence under this Act or the Protection of Animals Act 1911 or the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912, the court by which he is convicted may cancel any licence held by him under this Act.
- (5) The court may suspend the operation of the cancellation pending an appeal.
- (6)For the purposes of this Act the Inner and Middle Temples shall be deemed to be in the City of London.() Regulations may be made—
- (a) enabling a local authority to revoke a licence and, on the application of the licence holder, to vary the conditions (other than the prescribed conditions) of the licence;
- (b) enabling appeals to be made to a magistrates' court or, in Scotland, a sheriff court against—
- (i) refusal to grant the licence;
- (ii) the conditions (other than the prescribed conditions) of the licence;
- (iii) refusal to vary the conditions;
- (iv) revocation of the licence;
- (c) requiring the payment of the prescribed fee to be made to a local authority on inspection by the authority of premises in respect of which an application for a licence has been made;
- (d) providing for the continuance or transfer of the licence where an appeal is made, and on the death of the licence holder.(2) Any power to make regulations under this Act—
- (a) may be exercised so as to make different provisions for different cases or different classes of cases;
- (b) includes power to make such incidental or supplemental provision in the regulations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(3)'.
§ Mr. Doig
The purpose of subsection I of the new clause is to prohibit a person from keeping a guard dog in the course of business unless he holds a licence in respect of the kennels. The subsection needs to be read in conjunction with the definition given in Amendment No. 13. That does not apply to a person who keeps a dog to protect his own premises. A licence is required only by a person—and this includes a corporation—whose business it is to hire out guard dogs to other people.
The purpose of subsection (2) is to prohibit a person from using or permitting the use on any premises of a guard dog if he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that the dog is normally kept at unlicensed premises. That is complementary to subsection (1), and means that it will be more difficult for the unscrupulous owner of a guard dog who keeps his dog in unlicensed kennels to find business. The 876 owner of premises who hires a guard dog kept in unlicensed premises runs the risk of prosecution for permitting the use of the dog knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that the dog was from unlicensed kennels. The maximum penalty for an offence under subsection (1) of keeping a dog without a guard dog kennel licence and under subsection (2) of using or permitting the use of a guard dog kept in unlicensed kennels is a fine of £400 on summary conviction, as contained in Clause 4.
I turn to new Clause 2. I presume that if there is a vote there will be a separate vote on new Clause 2. The clause relates to guard dog kennel licences. The effect of the clause is to make local authorities the licensing authorities in respect of guard dog kennels. Subsection (1) empowers a local authority to grant a licence provided that the application is made on the prescribed form and that the prescribed fee is paid. The licence will be in respect of guard dog kennels within the local authority area. If a security organization has kennels in more than one local authority area, it will require a licence from each of the local authorities. The form, fee and other details of the licensing scheme will be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
Subsection (2) requires a licence to be subject to the prescribed conditions—that is so say, the conditions laid down in regulations—as defined in a subsequent amendment, and at the same time permits the local authority to lay down such other conditions as it thinks fit. For example, the local authority may wish to specify the maximum number of dogs that may be kept in a particular kennels as a condition of the licence granted in respect of the kennels.
Subsection (3) provides for annual licences. That will enable a local authority to inspect a kennels at least once a year if it should wish to do so. By allowing a licence to run for a year from its commencement, the work load on the local authority will be spread more evenly over the year.
The purpose of subsections (4) and (5) is to empower a court to cancel the licence of a holder of a guard dog kennel licence who is convicted of cruelty to animals, and to suspend the cancellation 877 pending an appeal. It is usual to make a provision of this kind, and examples can be found in Section 3(3) of the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 and Section 4(3) of the Riding Establishments Act 1964.
Subsection (6) brings the Inner and Middle Temples within the City of London for the purposes of the Bill. The City of London comes within the definition of a local authority.
The effect of Amendment No. 9 is to enable the details of the licensing procedures and the conditions of the licence to be prescribed by regulations. These matters have not been included in the Bill because they are matters of detail which are better left to regulations, which can, if necessary, be more easily amended in the light of experience.
The contents of the regulations would be the subject of consultation with organisations, such as local authority associations, which have an interest in the provisions. The amendment covers all matters on which it seems likely that regulations will be required. At the same time it gives the Secretary of State power to make such incidental or supplementary provision as he considers appropriate. Among the more important matters which may be the subject of regulations are the following.
It is clearly right that the local authority should be able to revoke a licence if the holder has committed serious breaches of the conditions of his licence. It is usual to provide a right of appeal against a refusal to grant a licence or against the revocation of a licence. The intention is to make the licensing scheme self-financing by fixing fees at levels which will repay local authority expenditure.
New Clause 2 provides for a prescribed fee for licences, and Amendment No. 15 to Clause 5 defines "prescribed" as meaning "prescribed by regulations". It will also be possible to charge a fee for inspecting premises. An inspection will be necessary before the local authority can decide whether to grant a first licence for the premises. There will also be circumstances in which it is right to require a fee to be paid for an inspection of the premises before a further licence is granted. Where the licence holder dies it would be wrong to bring the business to 878 a halt until a new licence can be granted. Regulations could provide for the transfer of the licence to, for example, the personal representatives of the late licence holder.
I agree with some of the criticism of the Bill that was made in the form of points of order. The Bill is complicated and difficult to understand, but that is not a unique experience in the House. I have frequently sat on Committees in which I have suffered exactly the same difficulty. Although I sympathise with hon. and right hon. Members who find the Bill difficult, I assure them that I have often suffered this difficulty in the past. I apologise for what has happened.
I deny that the Bill is drastically changed from its original form. There are only slight changes which became necessary in the light of discussions. The purpose of a Committee stage is to take note of objections, to make allowances for them and to change the Bill in the light of the criticisms. That is what we have tried to do. I agree that the Bill is not simple to follow, but events have shown that it is necessary to improve the present position.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Does not my hon. Friend appreciate that instead of his original Bill we now have an entirely new one? My hon. Friend started off with a tremendous ambition to deal with dogs generally, but now we are restricted to guard dogs, whatever they may be.
§ Mr. Doig
May I correct my hon. and learned Friend's observations? The only difference from the original Bill is that we have removed the provision to make compulsory the display of a notice outside premises in which a dog is kept. That has been dropped because of the criticisms that were made in the Second Reading debate. It is not a substantial change. We did not set out to cure all the ills and everyone's complaints about dogs, as I made clear on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Will my hon. Friend tell the house what he means by a "guard dog"? There is a definition:'guard dog' means a dog used to protect premises, or persons or property on any premises".Who is to be the judge of that? What does my hon. Friend mean by "guard 879 dog"? Is any person in any house entitled to say that his dog is a guard dog? How is it to be tested?
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Doig
If my hon. Friend cares to look further at the Bill he will find that "guard dog" is very clearly defined. But he is deviating from his first criticism before I have had time to reply to it. His first criticism was that we had departed substantially from the original Bill. This is just not true. Two changes, and two only have been made. The original Bill sought to require every owner of a dog to put up a notice saying "Beware of the dog", to indicate that there was a danger to people when entering any premises or any house in which a dog was kept. We have reintroduced this provision but the difference is that it is now only in relation to guard dogs. I suggest that that is not a substantial departure. It is a very minor departure.
Secondly, we wanted to introduce in the original Bill a "guard dog charter "recommended to us by various organisations which breed or maintain or control dogs. It was decided, following Government advice to me, that it would be much better to do this in the form of regulations which could cover these points and which, if found to be faulty in the light of experience, could be much more easily changed than an Act of Parliament.
I deny that there is any substantial change from the original Bill. There are two minor changes.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I followed closely the Second Reading debate and also, as a member of the Standing Committee, I have tried to follow in detail the various clauses of the Bill and the amendments moved in Standing Committee. I find great difficulty now, in considering these amendments, in seeing exactly what we are left with, and to that extent I have great sympathy for those who feel that this is something close to a new Bill. On the other hand, I feel that the objectives of the Bill are very worthy indeed, and that the House is spending its time well in considering them. If we can iron out some of the anomalies during the course of this stage, we shall have performed some useful service.
880 Concerning the points raised two or three times already on what I can only describe as "old Clause 1"—the clause which provided for some kind of notice to be established outside any house where any kind of dog lived that might be dangerous—I think that some of the objections to that are laudable, and that the proposed changes make the message simpler, though in reading through and considering these amendments now I find great difficulty in feeling that the Bill is now simpler.
Dealing with the new clauses as we have had them outlined, the one substantial point that my hon. Friend might be able to clarify for me—it concerned me greatly in Standing Committee—is that much of the responsibility for the operation of this Bill, if it became law, would be with the police authorities. Reading through all these amendments I see no reference to the police authorities. The registration and regulation procedure is in part the responsibility of the local authority and in part the responsibility of the Secretary of State. It is a delicate balance between the two.
If I am right in assuming that, it is a very welcome change from the position on Second Reading, and I should be interested in my hon. Friend's comments. I should like to know exactly what moves him now to accept this change in the regulation which, as understand, he did not think desirable before. It is my view—and, I think, that of a number of hon. Members—that whenever the Government have a new function of government that they think needs to be performed at a local level, the assumption should always be that it is given automatically to the democratically elected local authority, and that only in the most exceptional circumstances should it be given to anybody else. If that principle has been conceded I am very pleased indeed about that concession.
One concession which, as I understand it, has not been made, and which I again think is a substantial and important one, relates to new Clause 1. New Clause 1 still puts a substantial responsibility, backed by penalties, on anyone hiring a guard dog. There is a considerable onus, on anyone who decides to hire a guard dog, to see that the animal he hires and the conditions under which it has been 881 hired are according to all the necessary regulations and prescriptions from the Secretary of State and from the local authority.
I should like to quote two examples to show why I think that the onus in the Bill for seeing that the safety provisions are upheld—which is really what we are concerned about—should be with the owner of the dog, the person who keeps the dog, or the kennel keeping the dog. The first quotation is from the Sunday Telegraph—a newspaper to which I do not normally refer, except in exceptional circumstances—of 2nd May 1971:For a pound a night or even less, you too can hire a guard dog to protect your property during the small hours.This is the part that worries me:Just turn up the Yellow Pages or thumb through the small ads. in your local paner, and there they all are: security companies that represent the most astonishing, perhaps the most worrying, growth sector of British industry.What worries me there is that presumably, if this new clause becomes the law of the land, anyone who thumbs through the Yellow Pages—certainly in regard to the hiring of guard dogs—might find himself in all sorts of difficulties unless he is certain that whoever is advertising in the Yellow Pages has complied with all the rules and regulations relating to guard dogs. I am not a lawyer but that seems to me to be an unhappy legal situation. Looking through the Yellow Pages, whether for a restaurant or for a radio equipment shop or a guard dog, all the time the onus is put on us to be satisfied that there is compliance with every regulation concerning the goods offered for sale. That is the substantial point that I wish to emphasise.
My other quotation, which reinforces my argument, is from The Guardian—a paper which I much more frequently consult—of 27th April 1971 concerning the Port of London Authority and the protection of its warehouses and stores at the time of some reconstruction. How did Willments, the company doing the reconstruction on the Port of London Authority land, pick its security firm? The report states:Mr. Kenneth Kelman, the company secretary, said: 'It would probably be chosen by 882 the man on the site, probably because it was a local firm or possibly chosen from the trade directory.'If the Bill becomes law in its present form almost all responsibilities will fall on people who want to hire a guard dog to protect their property.
I move on now to Amendment No. 9 and the various provisions proposed therein. I reiterate what for me is a fairly fundamental principle, which is that any job should be given to a local authority unless there are good reasons for doing otherwise. I see that it is proposed to give the licensing system to the local authority, and I am pleased about that. However, the appeals procedure is to be outside the control of the local authority and to be through the courts. If anyone is anxious to keep a guard dog and to have his premises and the animal licensed, I should like to feel that there is some initial procedure within the framework of the local authority to enable him to know on what grounds he is given or refused such a licence and that there is some slightly less elaborate procedure than immediate resort to the courts to enable him to have the position clarified. In the last resort, of course, he is bound to go to the courts, but I should have thought that is was possible to build into the local authority, bearing in mind that we are talking about a fine of £400, some procedure for the initial examination of any objection to the licensing system made by an individual.
I feel that it should be possible to do this within the framework of the local authority. On certain issues, local authorities have elaborate procedures for appeals, though not on criminal matters, of course. It has always struck me as one of the benefits of our local authorities that these appeals exist. One example which I have in mind is the facility which a student has if he is removed from a course of education. In such a case, the first appeal is to the academic body of the college. Secondly, it goes to the higher education sub-committee of the local authority. Thirdly, it goes to the education committee. Fourthly, it goes to the council itself. In other words, there are at least four stages at which an appeal can be heard, and no doubt, if this were followed to its conclusion, ultimately we should reach the United Nations or some such body at the end of the trail.
883 If it is possible for some sort of appeals procedure to be built into the local authority framework, let us not get involved, in the opening stages, in the suggestions which have been made about immediate recourse to the courts.
I have no doubt that a Home Office Minister will provide all the answers in lawyers' terms, but I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) to think carefully especially about the responsibility of the hirer to ensure that all the regulations are complied with. If these points are answered, I think that we can tidy up the Bill a good deal.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman
If an old dog may intervene briefly in this discussion, perhaps I might make a few criticisms of the new clause.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) has a very laudable object in view. I am certain that there should be some protection against dogs. In his Bill, however, he has erected a tremendous paraphernalia to deal with the problem.
When my hon. Friend was moving his new clause I intervened to refer to his definition of "guard dog", which is vital to this matter. As we know, whatever my hon. Friend may say about his original Bill, it has been altered very considerably. It has been changed entirely by what has been done in Committee.
I ask the House to look at the definition of "guard dog" in Clause 5. That says:'guard dog' means a dog used to protect premises, or persons or property on any premises".Who is to judge what is a guard dog? Does that definition mean that the person who keeps a dog in the ordinary way may be challenged by authority to show that it is not a guard dog? He may say "I have a dog, but it is a pet. I keep a dog as a pet, but at the same time it is some protection for me." Has it then to be raised to the status of a guard dog? Are we to have litigation? Will there be a prosecution defended by the dog owner, with the authorities saying that it is a guard dog and with the owner saying that it is only a pet, although it is true that it protects him to some extent?
With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, 884 one has only to look at the definition of "guard dog" to see how impossible the Bill is. The heart of the matter is what is meant by "guard dog". I venture to say that tremendous difficulties will arise from that.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
This is one of the difficulties that we face this morning. But may I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to Amendment No. 13, in which there is a definition of "guard dog kennels "which, when applied to the amended Clause 5, should make the position clearer to those who have a dog for domestic purposes and not for protection.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) labelled himself as "an old dog". Earlier, Mr. Speaker indicated that he would allow the greatest possible latitude in debate. However, I hope we shall not have too much barking from different breeds of dogs. That is what this debate seems to be degenerating into. If I may say so, the hon. and learned Gentleman looks to me rather like an old labrador.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I appreciate your criticism of me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no desire to extend this debate and to become out of order. However, you will notice that the clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West begins with the wordsA person shall not keep a dog at guard dog kennels unless he holds a licence under section (Guard dog kennel licences)…. A person shall not use or permit the use at any premises of a guard dog …".Clearly the definition of "guard dog" is absolutely vital. We cannot discuss this matter in any detail unless we look at the definition of "guard dog".
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) intervened to point out the effect of Amendment No. 13. I have looked at that amendment. I know that I shall be out of order if I refer in detail to it now. I have no doubt that later on we can discuss in detail what is meant by that amendment. Bearing that amendment in mind, however, I say merely that it would not protect a person and that there are many cases which might involve prosecution where a person might have to defend himself and would be in great difficulty.
885 This is not a light matter. I know that it has been laughed at on occasions, but it is very important. What is more important to me than anything else is that by this Bill we are creating a new criminal offence. A person's liberty is the most important matter that we have to consider. It is even more important than a breach of the law, although it comes within it. By this Bill we are introducing a new criminal offence. We are saying, in other words, that if a person keeps a dog which someone could call a guard dog and which is not kept chained up, or if its owner has not attended to all the details put forward in new Clauses 1 and 2, he will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to a maximum fine of £400. I deprecate the habit of creating new criminal offences. We should hesitate before we do that. One of the evils of the Bill is that it creates a new offence, tremendous paraphernalia and a new structure regarding guard dogs.
In Committee the Bill was amended so that local authorities should act instead of the police. Why was that done? Local authorities are burdened with many duties. What will they do in this case? Will they create new departments specifically to look after dogs? What about the administrative cost?
§ Mr. Grocott
My hon. and learned Friend is concerned about giving local authorities additional responsibilities. Whatever we might feel about the details of local government reorganisation, at least one of the objectives of the 1972 Act was to enable local authorities to cope more efficiently with their existing burdens and with any additional duties which might be given to them. If we decide not to give this responsibility to a local authority, it will be the thin end of the wedge. This has happened with other Bills in the past, when there has been an erosion of the responsibilities of local authorities.
§ Mr. Weitzman
With great respect, I take a different view. Local authorities already carry tremendous burdens of responsibility.
Are local authorities to create new, special departments with special officials to look after dogs? Local authorities have enough problems trying to enforce the law regarding the trouble caused by 886 dogs on the highway. We know that that duty is neglected. Yet it is proposed to place another burden on local authorities. I should prefer the police to deal with the matter. The police know far more about the subject and are probably more capable than the local authorities of dealing with this matter. I suggest that the present intention is wrong.
The new clauses are unnecessary. By erecting all this machinery and requiring local authorities to supervise guard dogs, however necessary that supervision might be, we are placing an excessive burden upon local government. I emphasise the danger of creating a new criminal offence. I therefore hope that the new clauses will not be accepted.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I should like to confine my remarks to some of the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), especially those concerning the rôle of the local authorities.
I am deeply concerned that we should not ask local authorities to take on additional burdens, especially at a time when Parliament is giving them more to do in ordinary circumstances. Part of the difficulty is that the local authorities have neither the resources nor the trained personnel to deal with this problem.
There has been some argument about the definition of a guard dog. Presumably one of the elements is whether the dog is trained or untrained. If so, the only body with requisite experience in the matter is the police. That is true of the Metropolitan Police. To be realistic and to tidy up the Bill, I ask the proposer to bear that point in mind and to consider whether he is satisfied that the local authorities should be burdened with this responsibility. I believe that the police are in a better position to undertake it.
There would have to be supervision of training in order to define what constitutes a trained dog. The mere fact that a person says that a dog is a guard dog does not mean that it is a trained dog. It could be simply a ferocious-looking dog, accompanied by a dog handler. That does not mean that the dog has been properly trained in security duties, certainly not as well trained as Ministry of Defence or police dogs. I should like my hon. Friend to say something about 887 the problem of the training of dogs so that whoever supervises their licensing, whether the police or the local authorities, will also be able to examine the degree of training of the dogs involved.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I should first like to refer to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). I agree with him on one substantial point. The Bill and the new clause should not be taken lightly. We have only to examine the evidence in our areas and to read Press reports to know that guard dogs, as well as other dogs, continue to constitute a serious danger to the lives, the well-being and the liberty of many of our fellow citizens. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) took the view that the police should be more meaningfully involved in the matter. It is true that the police are the only body with immense experience in controlling and handling guard dogs. That is why I shall be delighted to receive the support of my hon. Friend for Amendment No. 16, which makes that point. The police should be the competent authority under the requirements of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) deserves the congratulations of the House. I recall, when my hon. Friend first introduced a Bill of this nature in a previous Parliament, the light way in which some hon. Members received his endeavours. It is a tribute to the courage and persistence of my hon. Friend that this Bill is before us and that it has survived the difficulties which its predecessor encountered. If my hon. Friend shows his customary good will and desire for sensible compromise in respect of some of the matters which we shall discuss, I am confident that the Bill will survive this stage of our proceedings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West denied that this Bill was different from those which had gone before. The Bill which received a Second Reading contained no reference to the new clauses now before us, even in spirit, let alone detailed wording. The Bill has been changed. Even its title has been changed from Dogs Bill to Guard Dogs Bill. That must meet some of the points made by 888 my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, because that has moved the emphasis from the individual dog to the specific requirements of guard dogs used for the purpose of guarding premises and property.
If he were to seek to make it a major part of his case—I am sure he will not—I cannot believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West could sustain the argument that there is no substantial change from the principles of the Bill, approved on Second Reading in the principles of the Bill as he now seeks to amend it. However, having said that, I want my hon. Friend to know that I join my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) in saying that the objectives of the Bill are highly desirable and we hope that it will, suitably amended, reach the statute book.
In passing, I must express surprise—I am sure that this surprise will be shared by my hon. Friends—that in a debate about dogs we do not have the company of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). I should have thought he would be a "natural" for our deliberations this morning, and I may add that English Members sometimes have the characteristic of British bulldogs and cannot easily be put off the right scent even by the activities of Scots terriers.
New Clause 1 causes me grave concern because it not only presents a difference in principle from the Bill which we thought would come before us but it preempts the consideration promised in Committee on the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth has raised, namely, whether there should be greater involvement of the police as opposed to the local authority. In my view, it would be better if we had a careful balance of involvement here between both the local authority and the police and that is why I shall seek later to reintroduce the police interest, since I entirely share the view that the police are the most competent people to evaluate the ability of a person to manage a guard dog.
I take serious issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West on the question raised by the new clause of 889 whether the Bill should apply to the dog or, as my hon. Friend would have it, to a dog kennel and the dogs coming therefrom. I have conducted considerable research in this matter. Not only have I studied the reports in the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian but I felt that I ought to follow the good sense of the Government Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), and look up The Times, because not only is The Times a great source of information for us but it has the advantage over all other newspapers of having the exclusive right at present to be maintained in our Library on a Press-cutting service basis. Incidentally I regard that as wrong, and I think that the same treatment should be extended to other newspapers. However, that service being limited at present, I have had to draw only upon The Times.
Having gone through the reports in The Times over recent years, I find that most of the reported incidents of the savaging of citizens by dogs have arisen not so much from the behaviour of dogs handled by people in the employ of security firms—though there were some—but from the behaviour or individual dogs. Indeed, I believe that the notorious and tragic incident in my hon. Friend's own city some time ago was not related altogether to guard dogs used for security purposes.
My contention, therefore, is that we should so draft the law that it will deal with the individual dog used for security purposes by an individual owner. I have in mind here what I found in going through the cuttings from The Times. In a good number of cases totters and scrap metal merchants, for example, employ dogs on their premises, each dog being in the ownership of one person, and this situation would not be covered by my hon. Friend's proposal. Going about the country, one often sees that in a scrapyard where quite valuable metals are stacked but where the perimeter fence is not necessarily maintained with full care the owner relies upon a vicious guard dog owned by him. That dog may be on a long lead or, as is common practice nowadays, on a ring lead so that the dog may move over a fairly wide area. My hon. Friend seeks by the Bill to limit that so that the dog should not be able to move freely about the premises unless the handler is present.
§ Mr. Weitzman
The difficulty is that it is hard to know and to prove that a person is keeping a dog for security purposes. A person may have a dog as a pet, or he may say that he is keeping it to protect himself. How does one prove that it is a guard dog for security? The danger is that a person who has not in fact got a dog for security purposes may be accused of having it for that purpose and thereby be subject to this new criminal offence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) replies to that intervention, may I remind him that if the Bill should become an Act he himself could be committing an offence by addressing as he has the chief Government guard dog—the Government Chief Whip—who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench below the Gangway and not in his proper licensed kennel.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip often roams far and wide about the premises, and we know from long experience that our chief guard dog's bark is often not as fierce as might be feared. It is a great consolation for us that we have a Cockney guard dog, and we can expect from him some of the Cockney characteristics of genuineness, compassion and understanding. Perhaps if we ever had a Scots terrier our position might be a lot less happy. However, I think that that is a remote possibility because, apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, most of the Scots terriers are incarcerated in other high posts of great dignity in this Parliament. In that spirit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that we are delighted to see you in the Chair.
§ Mr. Weitzman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I listened with great interest to your intervention, but I must point out that, as a result of it, my hon. Friend seems to have forgotten to deal with my intervention.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I assure my hon. and learned Friend that that is not so. I am not a trained lawyer, and I have difficulty in keeping in mind all the points I wish to deal with, but I am a sufficiently experienced parliamentarian to be able to say that I have not forgotten the point.
891 The definition of a guard dog comes later in the Bill, but I shall at once deal with the specific question of a person—to use my hon. and learned Friend's words—who keeps a dog for his personal protection. If I may say so, that is not in some respects an unreasonable description of a guard dog. The danger which my hon. and learned Friend rightly sees is that, if we say in the Bill that the mere keeping of a dog for personal protection should entail the whole process of the Bill, we shall be embarking upon a difficult course.
I do not keep a dog at present, though I should love to do so. A dog is the most wonderful pet one can have, and I am sure that no one reading our debate today will fail to realise that all hon. Members taking part are animal lovers. We are trying to create a state of affairs in which these dogs may be used with proper regard for the safety and well-being of the citizenry.
My hon. and learned Friend's point related to someone keeping a dog. I shall not use the word "alsatian". Alsatians have been badly maligned in the general public discussion on guard dogs. They are used quite extensively and have been involved in some unfortunate incidents. I know from correspondence, however, that there is great anger among those who breed and like alsatian dogs as pets that they should be maligned as the most vicious animals.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
When I have finished with this point, I shall be pleased to give way to my hon. Friend. It would be unreasonable for a person who has a single dog for his protection on his own domestic premises to be encumbered with the new law. There is legislation on the statute book regarding nuisance to neighbours and things like that which operates a degree of protection.
What we seek and what I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West will agree that he seeks to do in the Bill, and what I certainly seek to do through my amendment, is to ensure that premises which are specifically guarded because of their valuable contents should be subject to certain regulations.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend, who is about to intervene again and say that that is not what the Bill states. I can only say that we would have been better served had my hon. and learned Friend, with his vast experience in the legal sphere, put down an amendment to make the matter clear both to himself and to the House. I give way to him again.
§ Mr. Weitzman
My hon. Friend referred to a dog as a guard dog being kept for personal protection. Suppose that an old lady living alone has a dog which barks when somebody is at the door and she is afraid that if she opens the door she will be mugged. Would that dog be a guard dog, or is that open to argument?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In my view, that is not a situation that the new clause seeks to encompass within its meaning. No doubt if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and has the leave of the House to reply to the debate, he will clear up that point.
I understand that the new clause seeks to remove—in this respect it goes further than I want to go—the involvement of a domestic pet in the Bill and concentrates entirely on guard dog kennels specifically set up for the breeding, training and hiring for profit of dogs trained for security purposes.
In his first intervention in my brief remarks, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington made a point on which I am in some dispute with him. I want to strike a happy balance between my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and for Dundee, West. The point I was making a few minutes ago was that people may own dogs not as pets but as security guards dogs.
For example, an owner might have such a dog in his scrap yard. That would not come into the class referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington—a domestic pet—and it would not be within the compass of the new clause, because it would not be kept in kennels in the sense that the new clause defines kennels. Therefore, we 893 would still have a situation of individually owned guard dogs operating within insecure perimeters. I have observed a number of scrap yards and second-hand car sites which have not had sufficiently and carefully maintained perimeter fencing, the owners of which were using guard dogs owned by themselves which would be outside the scope of the new clause.
I could pray in aid—I shall not, because I do not want to take up too much time—many Press cuttings from The Times. They would demonstrate that there are many recorded instances of guard dogs kept by single owners in particular places being responsible for the savaging of innocent passers-by, which we all seek to avoid.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams
I hate to interrupt my hon. Friend when he is speaking so well. However, will he deal with the point I made about the training of dogs? This is an important point, particularly if we are asking local authorities to issue licences.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope during the course of my remaining remarks, when I eventually get to Amendment No. 9 which is being taken with the two new clauses, to deal with training and the regulations to be made by the Secretary of State when the Bill is passed.
Having delivered myself of my general observations, I should like to turn to the more detailed matters arising from new Clause 1. I have already said that I am opposed to the loosening of the Bill by relating it to guard dog kennels. Indeed, I put down some amendments—unfortunately they were starred—which set out my view on the matter. However, I should be out of order if I were to expand on amendments which have not been selected.
New Clause 1 as drafted would extend the area of danger to innocent passers-by because it misses the opportunity of dealing with the particular guard dog. Considering the reports which have been given in the national Press—my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth introduced one—about the growth of security firms employing guard dogs, I suppose my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West is correct to con- 894 centrate on what he sees as the main responsibility.
The only part of new Clause 1 which I like is subsection (2), which puts responsibility clearly on the hirer of the guard dog. In that respect I support my hon. Friend. I believe that the person who hires a guard dog has an equal—perhaps a greater—responsibility because he is making it possible for the guard dog to be in a particular place at a particular time. Therefore, he has a special responsibility to see that the guard dog that he is hiring comes from a proper source and is under the control of a properly trained person. I am opposed to subsection (1) but would welcome subsection (2).
On new Clause 2 we have a more difficult situation because it lays responsibility upon the local authority to issue the licences, collect the fees and do other things.
It is not sufficient for my hon. Friend, in new Clause 2, to say that the local authority may grant the licence and that the form and the fee and the other details of the licensing scheme will be prescribed in regulations to be made by the Secretary of State. We could not possibly allow that to pass unless the Under-Secretary spelt out clearly exactly what was meant by regulations in respect of the form and requirements of registration which her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will lay upon the local authorities.
I share the view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington that local authorities already have a substantial burden imposed upon them. Only this morning before we commenced the debate on the Bill we heard petitions presented from ratepayers protesting against the level of rates, and we must, therefore, be careful about what extra burdens we lay upon local authorities.
I believe that because of the necessity to protect people against attacks by guard dogs and to ensure that these dogs are properly controlled and trained it is right to lay this proposed duty upon local authorities, but we cannot agree to that being done without having some clear idea of what this will mean in terms of cost to the ratepayers. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give us some indication of what she expects the fee to be and what sort of administration 895 local authorities will have these purposes.
Subsection (2) of new Clause 2 says that a licenceshall be made subject to such prescribed conditions (if any)—I am very much opposed to the inclusion of the words "if any" because I believe that the Minister should make mandatory conditions—and to such other conditions as the local authority thinks fit.I want to explore a little further what would be reasonable in respect of those other conditions.
Before a local authority can even start to consider what other conditions it wishes to impose upon a person who applies for a licence it should have the fullest possible details of the Government's requirements in this respect. Among the "other conditions" which a local authority could lay down, could one be the requirement that the place in which the guard dog is to be used has a secure perimeter fence?
The perimeter fence argument is important, because if somebody wishes to protect his property—I am talking not about private individuals but about people engaged in a trade, business or profession—his first duty is to ensure that there is an adequate perimeter fence, locked huts within the fenced area and so on. Unless a local authority has the right to insist upon a secure perimeter fence as a term of granting a licence, there will be a continuation of what I regard as the had practice of people having a guard dog because it is a cheaper way of ensuring security for their premises than having proper perimeter fences.
§ Mr. Grocott
It seems to me that there is a defect in the drafting of the Bill. We shall come to Amendment No. 1. The requirement that there should be a notice at the entrance to premises where there are guard dogs is spelt out in great detail, but what I consider to be the much more important issue of the security of the perimeter fence is ignored. In case after case involving guard dogs one hears references to insecure perimeter fences. The displaying of a notice is dealt with in the Bill, but the far more important issue 896 of perimeter fences is left to be dealt with later in regulations.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I assure the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) that the Chair would not be annoyed if he were to allow the time taken by interventions to be added to his brief speech.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I always try to bear the burden that I have to carry of interventions during my speeches, whether by my hon. Friends or by anyone else. I am always delighted to accommodate them.
The Minister must give us an assurance before we allow subsection (2) of new Clause 2 to pass because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth said, this is a substantial matter. I shall not follow my hon. Friend into dealing with Amendment No. 1 because I have another brief speech prepared for that amendment when we reach it.
I now turn to subsection (3), and again I address my comments more to my hon. Friend the Minister than to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West. This subsection deals with the date of commencement of the licence and the need for renewal in 12 months' time. This again will add to the costs that will fall upon local authorities. I therefore want from the Minister a clear indication not only of what the fee will be but also what she thinks about the recovery and other legitimate costs that might arise from the inspection of premises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West will no doubt be relieved to know that I wholeheartedly welcome subsections (4) and (5) of new Clause 2.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are leaving the Chair, and as you intervened a short time ago to say that you were surprised I was not in my accustomed place, I think that you and the House are entitled to an explanation.
I am sitting here for a simple reason. I occasionally think it is right that I should see what Members of my party look like from the other side of the Chamber. At times I am impressed. I have great affection for my hon. Friend 897 the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), whose speeches are always good.
I want to clear up one matter. Reference was made to the fact, somehow relevant to the Bill, that I was evidently the guard dog of this place. I can only say that my experience over the past few months in particular leads me to believe that I am no longer regarded as that but rather as a pet poodle.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope he is happy with what he sees on the benches opposite him.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I say to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary that we do not regard him as a pet poodle. Everybody holds him in great affection, and I am sure he will understand that I am crawling to him in the midst of all these flowing compliments. Having seen me from a frontal position, and liking what he sees, perhaps he will be kind enough to convey that to the Prime Minister so that he may take a careful look and I can look forward to a more pleasant occupation than I have had in the past.
§ Mr. Mather
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are always being told that we raise bogus points of order. I think you ought to give the House some protection against Members who are normally on the Government Benches but who seem today to be on this side of the House rising on such points of order, so that we know exactly where we stand.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
I have just come to the Chair, and I undertake to be as good a guard dog as I can.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
May I say in passing that I am indebted to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary for sitting on the benches opposite, because that means that there are two Members of the House on the Conservative, Liberal, Scottish National and Welsh National benches. It is significant that when, on a Friday, we come to deal with matters affording protection to our citizens, few Members of the Tory and Liberal Parties are present.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member has been let off the lead for long enough. I understand we are debating whether new Clause 1 should be read a Second time.
§ Mrs. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate on the Guard Dogs Bill is interesting, but I should be greatly obliged if we could get on to another more important subject—namely, women.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
We are debating new Clause 1, but with it we are taking new Clause 2 and Amendment No. 9. Having finished with new Clause 1, I turn now to new Clause 2 and will come later to Amendment No. 9. As for the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun), I have great sympathy with it—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the sympathy will go no further, because in fact it was not a point of order.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Reverting to the point I was making before all the interventions, there is considerable public concern about the use of guard dogs. Many mothers are more concerned with protecting their children from being savaged by guard dogs than with equality between men and women on public boards. That does not mean that I am not sympathetic to equality of the sexes, but any mother listening to, or who may read, this debate should realise that the House considers it right to give proper consideration to legislation which impinges upon the safety of families.
I welcome subsections (4) and (5) of new Clause 2 but fundamentally disagree with subsection (6), which provides that the Inner and Middle Temples shall be deemed to be in the City of London. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey will agree with me here. I am sick and tired of the House of Commons, in legislation like this, having to waste time taking care of the special position of the Inner and Middle Temples.
§ Mr. Weitzman
May I declare an interest as a tenant of Middle Temple? It would be very wrong of my hon. Friend to prevent me from enjoying the benefits, such as they are, of the Bill.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If all the occupants of the Middle Temple were as diligent, compassionate and politically sensible as my hon. and learned Friend, we should all have more consideration for them.
That subsection carries on a privileged game which is not justified even by the presence of my hon. and learned Friend. In the interests of good will and the Bill's passage, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West will consider deleting it.
§ Mr. Weitzman
On a point of order. May I make a correction? I think I said that I was a tenant of Middle Temple. In fact, I am a tenant of Inner Temple.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Whether he is an inner, a middle or outer tenant my hon. and learned Friend is always welcome to our debates. I hope that when he has heard the few words I have to utter on this subsection, leaving aside his own personal interest—I shall not call it a vested interest—he will accept that Parliament's time should not be consumed in preserving these privileges. This is not an appropriate Bill in which to make a detailed attempt to remove them, but I hope that Ministers and future promoters of Private Members' Bills will note that many Greater London Members take rooted objection to the continued privilege extended to the Temple and to the City of London and will seek at some suitable time to end it. We seek to abolish these unnecessary and outdated privileged positions.
Amendment No. 9 says that regulations "may" be made. I believe that it should provide that they "shall" be made. A later amendment seems to deal with this point. It would be wrong to refer to it in any depth now, and I shall not do so, but our complicated system this morning means that one cannot get all these things clear in one's mind, particularly since we did not know until 10.30 what clauses and amendments Mr. Speaker had selected. Therefore, paragraph (a) should be mandatory. I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure us on that point.
On paragraph (b) I am entirely in favour of the provision for appeal to 900 magistrates' courts. I do not take the view expressed earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth. The best and established way of appealing against the grant of a licence, against its conditions, to vary its conditions or to revoke it is the local magistrates' court. The people on the bench understand and recognise the local requirements of public safety and security of private premises.
I shall not go into the Scottish part of this. Scottish law is entirely different and I would not dream of trespassing upon it.
§ Mr. Grocott
I am not thinking to preclude the ultimate right of appeal to the courts, which is our only safeguard. I sought only to express the view that there should be greater flexibility in a local authority's own structure, so that there was not an appeal through the legal system immediately a licence was refused. There should be flexibility in local authority structure to review the situation before that stage is reached.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I can reassure my hon. Friend From personal experience of local authority work I know that if, for instance, a planning application is refused, local authorities are generally willing and anxious to consult the applicant to see whether suitable mutually satisfactory conditions can be agreed. I am sure that that practice would extend to this provision. Most local authorities are sensible. They lean over backwards—sometimes too far, perhaps—to reach an accommodation with applicants.
I welcome this provision, which was not made clear in the Second Reading draft of the Bill or in Committee when the proposal for an appeals procedure was turned down. Hon. Members will appreciate from the amendments that I tried to deal with that in one of my own amendments, which Mr. Speaker quite rightly did not select because of my hon. Friend's new clause. When I tabled my amendment I did not know the nature of my hon. Friend's amendment.
I should like some information from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West on the question of the revocation of a licence. The House is entitled to know a little more about the grounds upon which my hon. Friend thinks that it would be reasonable for a council to revoke a licence once it has been issued. I have 901 already asked my hon. Friend the Minister for details about fees, because it is essential for local authorities that this measure should be self-supporting.
I turn briefly to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church in his excellent but brief intervention—namely, the training of guard dogs. I entirely agree that this should be catered for in the regulations and I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has not provided for this in Amendment No. 9, although I have a shrewd idea that it might be dealt with in some other more appropriate amendment. I have not had a full opportunity to study that. I hone that the Minister of State will take on board the views that have been expressed on this subject. I see that he is rapidly making notes, which I hope he will convey to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when she returns. I hope that she will be able to comment on the training of guard dogs, because it is important.
My final point on Amendment No. 9 concerns the important question of the transfer of a licence when a licence holder dies. This could prove to be very dangerous, because in the event of an appeal on the death of a licence holder it could mean that a daughter or son could have the licence conferred upon them, and they may not have had any experience in the control and handling of guard dogs. Even if it has to be done on appeal—which I assume means that in England it has to go before the magistrates' court and in Scotland before the sheriff court—there should be clearly spelt out in the regulations made by the Secretary of State a definition of the class of persons to whom such a transfer can be made. There should not be a situation in which the court might be persuaded, because of reasons not connected with security, to transfer the licence to people without proper training and experience.
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend making a note of that for the Under-Secretary, because she should spell this out to the House and give an undertaking that she will advise her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that the transfer of a licence can be made only to a person who has satisfied a competent authority of his ability to handle guard dogs.
902 I hope that we shall be able to make progress on these clauses and that the Minister will deal with the points raised. It is not my wish to see the Bill delayed or defeated, but there are some points of substance on which we are entitled to satisfaction.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Doig
First, I should like to reply to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott). He wanted to know why we had departed from the police authority and transferred licensing to the local authority. One of the main reasons is that all licensing is done either by the local authority or by a committee of the local authority. In Scotland it was done by the magistrates, who sat not as a local authority but as a semi-judicial committee of a local authority.
I have also been asked about appeals against the magistrates' decisions. I can only speak for Scotland on this matter as I am not familiar with the laws of England. In Scotland an appeal against a refusal by a magistrates' court, as it was called, to transfer a licence for any subject under its control was made to another body that comprised exactly the same people, with only one or two additions. In other words, the magistrates were the members of the appeal court.
This has never been considered a satisfactory method. It is one of the reasons why the appeal must be made to a court. If it is to be fair and seen to be fair, the appeal cannot be made to the same people as refused the application. People become dissatisfied if the appeal does not go their way, and they think it is a piece of nonsense that they have to appeal to virtually the same people although under a different title and sitting as a different group. This causes considerable concern and disappointment, and even mistrust, amongst people who have been refused a licence.
It is right, therefore, that any appeal of this kind should be to a court of law. In the case of Scotland, presumably this would be to the sheriff court.
There is also the difficulty of defining "police authority". Do we mean the police committee or the chief constable?
Legally speaking, the police authority is the police committee, which is simply 903 a committee of a local authority. It would be wrong for an appeal of that kind to be made to virtually the same people. To be fair to the appellant, the appeal should be made to a totally different body. If the appellant were refused a licence by a local authority or by a committee of a local authority or by a group of magistrates who were, in a sense, lay judges, the appellant would be less dissatisfied if the appeal were to a different body—in Scotland, the sheriff.
The matter of penalties in relation to persons who hire guard dogs was raised. New Clause 1 does not put any onus upon a person who hires a guard dog. He merely has to be satisfied that its owner is licensed. So long as he believes that that person is licensed and he does not knowingly engage someone who he knows is not licensed, he is not committing an offence. This is made fairly clear in the clause.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) asked for a definition of "guard dog". The phrase is clearly defined in Clause 5. The Bill would not apply to someone who had a dog for protection in his own dwellinghouse. Clause 5 says:'guard dog' means a dog used to protect premises, or persons or property on any premises".It goes on:'premises' means land other than land within the curtilage of a dwelling-house and buildings, including parts of buildings, other than dwelling-houses.It is crystal clear that the Bill does not apply to someone who has a dog for protection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) asked what provision there was for training. There is none. The reason is that it is impossible to lay down a standard to which a dog must be trained. A dog may be of a satisfactory standard when with one handler but unsatisfactory with another. The Bill allows a dog to be transferred from one handler to another. Standards would be difficult to judge.
However, the Bill lays down that a guard dog must at all times be under the control of its handler. That is clear enough for all legal purposes and much 904 better than trying to draw up a code of training or a set of regulations, which could easily be distorted by the dog being passed to a handler incapable of keeping the dog to that standard. There could not be a training test every time a handler went for a cup of tea and handed his dog over to another handler, as frequently happens.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said that more use should be made of secure perimeter fences. He thought that that was more important than putting a notice on a gate to say that guard dogs were on the premises. The Bill provides that guard dogs on the premises must at all times be under the control of the handler or securely chained. A secure perimeter fence becomes slightly less important in that context.
Secondly, however strong a perimeter fence may be, a dog will always find a way out. The tragic case in Glasgow concerned two guard dogs which burrowed under the fence—there was earth below it—and one of them attacked and killed a young boy. However tight the regulations the fence might be cut. That may not be believed, but I know from my experience on my own local authority that it can happen.
We had a fence built to prevent children from falling into a dangerous river. It was a very good fence and absolutely secure. It blocked a short cut that had previously been used by many people on their way to work. That fence was regularly cut by adults, who thus re-endangered the lives of children. It happened many times and we spent a great deal of money on repairing the fence. We asked the police to watch it as much as they could, but it was a long fence and there was a limit to the amount of time that the police could spare.
A similar situation would arise if there were a secure fence around premises with guard dogs. Even the most secure fence is no guarantee that someone will not damage it.
The Bill provides that a guard dog must be under the control of the handler at all times, or securely chained, with the handler still on the premises. The handler may go away for a cup of tea or some other reason, but during the short time that the dog is not under his 905 direct control it must be securely chained, or under the control of another handler. That is much better and safer than having a perimeter fence. Fences are liable to damage and a dog will find a way out even if there is the best fence in the world.
Not long ago I went to the Lambeth area to look at one of the scrapyards that my hon. Friend mentioned. There were two guard dogs, and whenever the gate was approached the dogs growled and barked. After I had been standing there for about 10 minutes, a lady came out with the two guard dogs, neither of them on a chain. She said that she was going to do some shopping.
Before she returned, one of the guard dogs returned on its own. What is the good of having a fence if the dogs are secured at night but in the day are left to wander around as much as they like? After all, they are the same dogs. Under the Bill, that would not be permitted. When the lady returned, she had so many messages that she was unable to control the second dog and it was not on a lead. In practice, regulations forbidding that state of affairs would not work, but I am convinced that the Bill will be effective.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford questioned the change from the original title to Guard Dogs Bill and said that the Bill was a total change from the original. Apart from the provision concerning a warning notice on gates, the original Bill was confined to guard dogs. We have dropped the one provision to which there was objection by some hon. Members and by a number of organisations. That provision represented perhaps one-twentieth of the total Bill. The remaining nineteen-twentieths were confined to guard dogs. One can hardly call that a substantial change.
I was asked why we had not used the police as the most competent authority to judge the training of guard dogs. First, there is the impossibility of laying down standards, as I have said. Secondly, the police have so much to do already that they would find it difficult to make time to enforce this law. The present law lays down that a dog must be under its owner's control at all times, but when do the police enforce that? Day in and day out one can see dozens of dogs roaming about on their own and not 906 under their owner's control by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, sometimes the owners are miles away.
Even when a dog bites someone and the incident is reported to the police, they do not always take action. During a recent election one of my canvassers was bitten by a dog and had to be taken to hospital. His mates reported the matter to the police, who said that they could do nothing about it unless there was a complaint from the person bitten. That is a rather strange way to carry on. If the police were involved, there would be the utmost difficulty about enforcement.
Another difficulty is that of identifying the dog. If a person is bitten by a dog so badly that he has to go to hospital, all that he can subsequently identify is the house where the dog came from. That is the best he can do. Some people may think that that is an acceptable means of identification, but I do not think it is, because if the case comes to court a person has to be able to identify the particular dog that bit him. I would defy anyone, other than the owner of the dog, to identify, for example, one alsatian out of a row of 10.
It is also unsatisfactory to say that all this extra work should fall on the police, because, although the police have the powers, they do not have the time to deal with the problem adequately. They cannot deal with the existing laws, let alone a whole lot of new ones.
The question of the Inner and Middle Temples I shall leave to my hon. Friend the Minister, because the Government suggested the clause in which they are mentioned. I am certainly unable to give any explanation.
Turning to the revocation of licences, I do not believe that we can lay down in advance all the conditions in which a licence can be removed. As with the existing system of licensing by local authorities, when application is made for a licence to be revoked the people who want the licence revoked—in some cases it is the police and in some cases other people—have to show what they consider to be good reason why it should be revoked. It is then up to the committee that issued the licence in the first place to decide whether it should be revoked, 907 bearing in mind the particular circumstances at the time.
We cannot lay down in advance regulations that would be so good that they would stand the test of time and be fair in all cases. They would have a far worse effect than the present position, whereby it is left to the people or the authorities that want to revoke the licence to give their reasons why it should be revoked. If it is revoked, the person concerned has the right of appeal to a court to challenge the revocation. That is a much fairer, more effective, more reasonable and practical way of dealing with the matter than the method that has been suggested.
I hope that I have covered most of the points raised. I have certainly done my best. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with any points that I have omitted.
§ Mr. Mather
I should like to intervene briefly before we finish our discussion on this group of amendments. I do not wish to delay the House or the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun), who is waiting patiently on the Labour Benches for the Second Reading of her Balance of Sexes Bill. I do not know whether it has occurred to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) that in his Bill he has not covered discrimination on premises where dogs are kept, but that point might occur to him later.
Although the hon. Gentleman attempted to clarify the group of amendments which we are discussing, it still seems to me to be a bit of a dog's breakfast. It is difficult to guide oneself through the labyrinth of changes that have been made in the Bill.
I am not against the Bill, and I do not believe that the Opposition are against it in principle, but it has become extremely difficult to understand. I hope that as the proceedings continue the hon. Gentleman will do his best to clarify further what he is trying to do. We have not had a full explanation of the changes which he has made with regard to the police, who are still involved, because a new criminal offence will be put on the statute book. This will involve the police being alert to the new offences which may be com- 908 mitted, and it will add to all the other responsibilities which they carry. When introducing new legislation we should consider the burden which it puts upon the law enforcement authorities.
There appear to be three new things which this group of amendments does. One is the licensing of kennels, which is covered by the first new clause. The second is the licensing procedure of the local authorities, which is contained in the second new clause. Amendment No. 9 concerns the revocation of a licence and the appeal procedure. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Dundee, West has given a sufficient explanation why these changes have been made at this stage in the Bill, and what their purpose is.
New Clause 2 appears to provide that a person who is running a guard dog kennels must apply each year for a new licence. Perhaps that point could be clarified before we pass on to the next amendment. If a person who is running guard dog kennels has to apply for a new licence each year it will probably be very unlikely that anyone will wish to invest in such an establishment or to set up such an establishment, because he will not have any expectation of continuity. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has considered this aspect. Certainly I would not go to the trouble of investing the considerable sum involved in setting up kennels, with all the equipment that is need, if I knew that my licence to keep guard dogs would last for only a year. That is an important point to be considered under new Clause 2.
Those are the only comments I wish to make on this group of amendments. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary will further clarify the purpose of this new group of amendments.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)
Perhaps it will be convenient for the House if I make my general points on the Bill in the debate on Third Reading, when I shall take up many of the points that have been raised on the two new clauses and the amendment.
However, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) should be 909 congratulated on his clear and intelligible account of his two new clauses and his amendment. There was only one point on which he was stumped for a reply and that was because the Inner and Middle Temples are not technically local authorities. Therefore, for the purposes of the Bill they are taken to be within the City of London, because the City of London comes within the definition of a local authority.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.