HC Deb 19 May 1981 vol 5 cc157-9 3.31 pm
Mr. Albert MeQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for dog licence fees and for the general welfare and control of dogs; and for connected purposes. Among other things, the Bill concerns increasing the dog licence fee. Such an increase is long overdue. The dog licence fee costs 37½p per annum and has not been increased since 1878. Taking the figure of 37½p in terms of purchasing power today, it would be equivalent to between £8.50 and £9.50 per annum. I recommend that the new licence fee be £5, which should be acceptable to most dog owners.

Last year, the cost of collecting dog licences amounted to almost £1 million, due mainly to the fact that the majority of the estimated 6 million dogs in the United Kingdom had never been licensed by their owners. Any new scheme for dog licensing must, therefore, be enforceable and must justify the need for existing legislation to be brought up to date. I shall seek to uo that if leave is given to bring in the Bill.

The Bill's other main proposals would include dog control; the responsibility of dog owners; the setting up of a national dog warden scheme, which would be self-financing; registration of all dogs after a 12-week period; and the permanent identification of a dog by means of a code number. The number could be indelibly marked on the dog by tattooing or by a similar method. The tattoo could be made on the inside thigh of the dog, because that area lacks pigmentation and would be suitable for the purpose, without causing the dog pain. The code number would be the dog's basic identification throughout its life and would be recorded on the licence.

The report of the inter-departmental working party on dog control, set up by the Labour Party in 1974, which was published in 1976, was accepted by the then Government but has never been implemented. The report, which covered licence fees, fouling and nuisance, road safety, livestock worrying and controls over breeding, dealt with many aspects of the dog problem which concern the public, including that of stray dogs.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is also keen to see the legislation enacted. The society has stated that hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals—the great majority of which are domestic dogs—are destroyed every year simply because homes do not exist for the number of animals that are born. The society has also suggested that, with the exception of dogs kept specifically for planned breeding, dogs should be neutered. It suggests that every encouragement should be given to owners to have their pets neutered.

The joint advisory committee on pets in society, whose member organisations are the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, the National Canine Defence League, the Petfood Manufacturers Association, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the National Dog Rescue Co-ordinating Committee, the British Veterinary Association, the Kennel Club, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, produced a comprehensive report that covered every aspect of the dog problem in the United Kingdom. In the introduction to the report the chairman stated: Governments hesitate to introduce legislation about animals because they know that any controversy arising would cut across party lines. That is why so much legislation on animals has been left to the hazards of Private Member's Bills. It is accepted that this subject is a highly sensitive political issue, but we should not run away from it when it has reached such chaotic proportions. The health danger to human beings resulting from diseases that are obtained from dogs cannot be under-rated. People do not normally take account of the effects of dog diseases, but the consequences can do wide-ranging and permanent damage.

One of the main diseases is toxoplasmosis gondii. Recent records show that 20 to 40 per cent. of all adults are affected by that disease from dogs. The symptoms in adults are similar to those of brucellosis, with general tiredness, muscular weakness and fever. There may also be an involvement of heart, liver and lung complaints. If a female develops toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, her child will have congenital toxoplasmosis, which can lead to blindness or to a liver disease. The disease has been recognised as a human problem only in the last decade and is, of course the reason why many local authorities have banned dogs from public parks.

Other common dog diseases are well known and require urgent attention. However, I have only given illustrations of the diseases carried by dogs. I hope that those illustrations will ensure that those who are interested in this great issue will understand the problems of dog control. We are acknowledged as a nation of dog lovers, but to be true to that affection we must look after the welfare of the dog and try to engender a sense of responsibility in dog owners.

A child can give his love and care to a dog. An adult, particularly one of the 9 million pensioners, can keep a dog as a companion and watchdog. The guide dog is indispensable to the blind. The handicapped have every reason to be grateful for the affection that the dog can show during a period of loneliness. Those are examples of our caring nature.

On the other hand, having outlived their usefulness, dogs are sometimes put out on the street to wander and gather into packs. The packs will roam wildly, injuring people and fouling streets and public areas. The public are entitled to be protected from that. Clauses will be written into the Bill that will enable local authorities to control such problems in much greater depth.

Clauses will be inserted to exempt guide dogs, work dogs, dogs owned by the handicapped and the disabled and to give one free licence to every elderly person. That will remove worry from those categories of people who require dogs for essential purposes. There is an urgent need for a dog warden scheme, which need not be a burden on the public purse. As the new licence fee will cover the cost of the service, it will also create an opportunity for small private businesses. A number of local authorities already provide full-time and comprehensive dog warden services on a contract basis through private firms.

The existing enforcement powers relating to dog licences and the control of dogs are seldom implemented. In Scotland, the Scottish Canine Consultative Council brought out the Angus report in October 1978, which pledged its support to the need for legislation. The report suggested that the council had the support of all responsible dog owners in Scotland as well as the great majority of district councils. The failure of successive Governments to grasp this problem fully justifies this motion. I trust that it will receive the approval of the House, as it will be widely accepted in the country as a long overdue measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Albert McQuarrie, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Teddy Taylor, Mr. Bill Walker, Mr. Tom McNally, Mr. Alex Pollock, Mr. David Myles, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Peter Fraser and Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.