HC Deb 03 March 1981 vol 1000 cc134-6 3.41 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I beg to move That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the further control of dogs; and for connected purposes. Some 12 months, ago I tried to bring in a similar Bill. Although at the Ten Minutes Rule stage that Bill had a majority of more than 100, it made no progress, due to opposition from the Government. On that occasion, as today, one of the supporters was my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally). Over the past 12 months both he and I have been forcefully reminded of the need for proper control of dogs. Last summer, at Brinnington, in my hon. Friend's constituency, a motorist swerved to avoid a stray dog on the highway, ran off the road and killed a young person.

That was not a unique event. Sadly, the victim was just one of some 20 people who, over the past 12 months, have been killed in road accidents in which a dog straying on the highway appears to have been the cause. In any year, over 2,000 road accidents are caused by stray dogs on the highway. I believe that that situation should be remedied.

Not only does this cause considerable human suffering, it causes great misery to the dogs themselves. Only last week, I was driving along the motorway when suddenly an Alsatian dog dashed across from the side, immediately causing motorists to swerve and to brake. The dog suddenly became petrified and stood for several seconds on one carraigeway before darting back, being hit by a vehicle and running yelping away.

Stray dogs not only cause a nuisance on the road; they cause a nuisance to large numbers of farmers and others raising livestock. Nearly 6,000 animals—mainly sheep and cows, but also horses and other animals—are killed as a result of dogs worrying them. Anyone who has seen a pregnant sheep being chased round and round a field by a stray dog has some idea of the misery and suffering caused to the animals, and also some of the anguish and genuine anger felt by the farmer who finds his livestock destroyed in this way. Sadly, the Government's only contribution to this matter in the past 12 months has been to stop collecting statistics on the number of animals killed as a result of sheep worrying.

We are also all well aware of the nuisance caused by stray dogs fouling footpaths and playing fields. I remember vividly the description given by one of my constituents who complained bitterly that, having scored a spectacular try on the rugby field, he found that somebody had been exercising a dog at the point where he landed.

We are also increasingly aware of the number of diseases carried by dog dirt. Moreover, stray dogs bite a large number of people. Although only occasionally does a dog bite lead to loss of life, I am told by hospital accident departments that dog bites are treated extremely frequently. Indeed, one informant claimed that they were probably the commonest single type of accident. Anyone who has tried to calm a young child who has been bitten by a dog, whether seriously or not, knows that it is an extremely difficult process, and often leaves a scar on the child's attitude to dogs for many years. Certainly, when I brought forward my Bill last year I had much support from postmen, milkmen and newspaper boys.

The extent of the stray dog problem is illustrated by the fact that between 180,000 and 200,000 stray dogs have to be rounded up each year, and more than 60,000 have to be destroyed because no one cares for them. That works out at roughly 150 dogs per day which have to be put down because they have been allowed to stray and no one cares for them.

Last century, the control of dogs in this country was far stricter. In 1878, however, instead of being increased the dog licence fee was actually brought down to its present amount—then 7s. 6d., and now 37½p. We have allowed the dog licensing situation to become farcical. First, about 50 per cent, of dog owners do not obtain a licence. Secondly, the income from licensing amounts to about £1 million, while the cost of collection is £1.6 million.

All the problems that I have outlined and many more were put to the Labour Government in 1975. That Government set up an interdepartmental working party to investigate the problem. The working party reported in due course, but, sadly, neither the Labour Government nor the Conservative Government carried out any of the extremely sensible recommendations made in that report.

My Bill seeks to implement those recommendations. Briefly, it seeks to establish a local authority dog warden service in every area and to finance it from a realistic licence fee. It seeks to ensure that all dogs have a licence and that the licence is obtained when the dog changes ownership rather than at the age of 6 months. The dog licence should be fixed to the dog's collar by a tag so that it is clear for all to see whether a dog is licensed or not. There might be an exemption for guide dogs for the blind and possibly for those of pensioners living alone. Dogs would have to be on a lead if they were on a public highway or on agricultural land.

The dog warden service would not only be concerned with rounding up stray dogs, it would help to educate people, particularly children, and to teach them that the ownership of a dog should be a responsible task and not something taken up as a craze for a week or two and then discarded.

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. I believe that the Bill has widespread support in the country. It is particularly supported by organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I hope that the House will not only support the Bill today but will ensure that it reaches the statute book.

I leave the House with one last thought. We always fear that rabies may cross the Channel. I suggest that this country should have adequate control of dogs now rather than be forced to take draconian measures if rabies becomes a problem.

I believe that there is a major problem and I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill in order to deal with it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Tom McNally, Mr. Tony Marlow, Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. James Lamond.