HC Deb 21 April 1983 vol 41 cc469-503 6.57 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

I beg to move, That the draft Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 17th March, be approved. The order is designed exclusively to deal with the problems caused by uncontrolled dogs in Northern Ireland. Those problems were recognised by the United Kingdom working party on dogs to be separate and much more serious than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Part of the order proposes to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with that obtaining in Great Britain.

In the Province there has been a great increase in the stray dog population, aggravated by civil disturbances and movements of population. Attacks on people and livestock are far too common. For instance, in 1980 about 600 attacks on people and 820 on livestock were reported to the police, and the Government assume that others were not reported. More recent statistics show that several thousand injuries caused by dogs are treated in Northern Ireland hospitals every year. In the four main Belfast hospitals, the figure was nearly 2,000 for 1982.

Attacks on livestock cause not only terrible suffering to defenceless animals, but cost the fanning industry an estimated £350,000 per year. Losses on that scale have forced some farmers to abandon sheep farming and discouraged others from expanding flocks. This happens particularly on the edge of large towns. In addition, the large number of stray dogs in Northern Ireland frequently lead to traffic hazards, fouled pavements and a general nuisance. Perhaps more seriously, stray dogs can occasionally hinder and prejudice the operations of the security forces.

In recent years the police have been fully engaged in dealing with serious crime and terrorism in the Province and the Chief Constable has not been able to give as high a priority as he would have wished to enforcing the existing licensing legislation. Consequently, licence evasion is widespread. The number of dogs licensed has fallen from 120,000 in the 1950s to only some 46,000 in 1982, and it is thought that fewer than one third of dogs owned in Northern Ireland are licensed. Those statistics underline Northern Ireland's special position and the need for this legislation.

In view of the damage done, it is all the more remarkable that Northern Ireland legislation has fallen behind that of Great Britain in protecting the farmer against the worrying of his livestock. That is also the case with controls over guard dogs and breeding establishments. Therefore, the order would bring Northern Ireland generally in line with Great Britain in those areas. There is also the need for consolidation, since the existing legislation relating to dogs in Northern Ireland is comprised of about two dozen separate measures.

For many years environmental and welfare interests, farmers and the general public have been pressing the Government for the introduction of new legislation in Northern Ireland to alleviate the problems. The problems are caused mainly by inconsiderate owners, some of whom seem to leave their dogs to fend for themselves. That could be largely solved by a more responsible attitude to dog ownership. Therefore, a primary objective in framing the order was to encourage responsible dog ownership as being in the best interest both of society in general and of dogs.

The Northern Ireland proposals would relieve the police of the burden of dog control functions and transfer the responsibility to district councils. It is hoped that this, together with the other new measures proposed, will minimise the number of stray dogs and ensure the licensing and effective control of all other dogs throughout the province. The proposals are based largely on the recommendations of the United Kingdom working party report on dogs, taking due account of the points made in the extensive and wide-ranging consultations with the many interests involved, mainly of course in Northern Ireland, and in the Northern Ireland Committee in November.

I should at this stage point to one of the very significant changes to which I agreed following that Northern Ireland Committee debate. I now propose that district councils should have direct responsibility for licensing and should retain their own revenue from licensing. It was proposed initially that licences would be issued through post offices, with all revenue being channelled into a dog fund operated by the Department and subsequently disbursed to district councils. This would have meant a considerable reduction in the revenue available for dog control, since both Post Office and departmental adminstration costs would have had to be deducted. This is a major change and will, among other things, place an additional responsibility on district councils.

I now deal with some of the main features of the order. The first relates to the cost of a dog licence. Article 7 provides for an increase in the licence fee to £5. I must emphasise that this is not taxation, but a charge or levy specifically required to help finance the new dog control service which is needed to deal with the special problems to which I have referred. It is suggested that the proposed sum is too high. However, anyone who owns a dog will appreciate that even the sum of £5—which works out at as little as lop per week — represents only a small proportion of the overall cost of keeping and feeding a dog. A £5 fee, however, is sufficiently large to make an owner think seriously about taking on the responsibilities of dog ownership and it should make the acquisition of dogs on impulse less likely. A licence fee at this level will have a sobering effect and will help develop a sense of responsibility. If the whole burden of the cost of dog control were, for instance, to be put on the rates, that principle would be lost. We must have effective registration as part of the dog control scheme and a realistic licence fee to cover both administration costs in registration and local authority control services.

We recognise that for elderly people — many of whom are on low incomes—such an increase will mean an extra burden. We therefore considered whether it would be proper to help alleviate that problem. On this, we have been generally guided by the approach followed by Governments of all parties, that the pension should be as high as possible in the circumstances and that elderly people should generally be free to choose how they spend that money, rather than the Government choosing their preferences for them. That should apply to dog licences. On the other hand, where an elderly person is living on his or her own a dog can be very important for companionship, so we propose to make an exception in that case. For persons over 65 living alone there will be a half rate licence. We are taking an age limit which is the same for men and women rather than the different ages at which they become eligible for the state pension. Most of the existing concessions for the elderly apply at age 65 regardless of sex.

We shall also continue the traditional exemption relating to guide dogs for the blind. Various approaches have been made in regard to a similar exemption for the deaf. I do not propose to include such assistance in this order. There are virtually no examples of properly trained dogs for the deaf in Northern Ireland. However, we propose to allow exemptions for such dogs by subordinate legislation as the scheme develops in Northern Ireland. It is not as straightforward a matter as that relating to the blind, since the deaf are a less easily definable group and there are varying degrees of deafness.

There is also the question of those who, for one good reason or another, keep a number of dogs on their premises. We propose a block licence—details are in article 8 —to to cover them. That will be available at a cost of £12.50 to breeders who keep on the same premises three or more unsterilised bitches, any of which is used for breeding, and to owners who keep on the same premises three or more dogs of either sex which are registered with the Kennel Club or other prescribed registering organisation. The block licence will also be available to operators of registered guard dog kennels who keep no fewer than three dogs which are used as guard dogs elsewhere.

If licensing controls are to be effectively enforced it is essential that dogs should be easily identified. To that end article 31 includes powers to prescribe and regulate the wearing by dogs of a collar with the keeper's name and address on the collar, or on a badge attached to the collar, or some other means of identification. The Department may also prescribe and regulate the wearing by dogs of discs or other means of licence identification attached to the collar and make provision for such licence discs to be issued by councils along with the licence.

It is proposed that part of the costs of the scheme should be met initially from the district rates. It is the intention that the rates contribution will be phased out and the scheme will become self-supporting. To that end, both basic and block licences will be reviewed regularly and if necessary adjusted by order subject to affirmative resolution.

It is difficult to estimate the costs of the scheme. It will be up to district councils to assess the size of the problem with which they are confronted and to employ such staff and take such measures as they consider necessary to deal with the problem in their area. I have taken account of the expressed desire of local authorities, and Northern Ireland Members in the Northern Ireland Committee, that councils should be responsible for collecting and retaining the licence fees in their areas, for setting up their own structures and for using their own discretion according to the circumstances of their districts.

As I mentioned earlier, the provision for a central dog fund has been removed from the draft order and district councils will receive the entire revenue from licence fees collected in their areas. District councils may carry out the issue of licences direct from their own offices or may enter into contracts with other agencies, such as the Post Office, as they think fit. Doubtless they will wish to carry out their operations as economically as possible. It is difficult to say what extra staff they will need or what other expenditure will be involved. It is anticipated that the new licensing arrangements and the enforcement activities of council officers will increase the uptake of licences.

We want to discourage the impulse acquisition of dogs, because they are often abandoned after a short period of ownership. I have mentioned the likely effect of a £5 licence fee in this regard, but the order also makes it a requirement for a person, except where exempt, to purchase a licence before taking possession of a dog. Articles 19 and 20 make it an offence on the part of both the person who acquires a dog and the person who sells or gives it away if a licence has not been obtained before the dog changes hands.

The order enables district councils to operate dog control services to collect strays and to enforce the provisions of the order. Article 40 makes it mandatory for councils to employ authorised officers to the extent necessary to deal with the problem and to make provision for stray dogs either through the use of their own pounds or by arrangement with owners of approved kennels.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will the money that is raised in fixed penalties go to the local authority?

Mr. Butler

The money that is raised in penalties or fines will flow, as is normal, to the national Exchequer.

The powers conferred on authorised officers in the exercise of their duties include powers to ask the name and address of a person when an offence is suspected and power to require the production of a dog licence. The powers of entry of the authorised officer represent the minimum necessary to enforce the provisions of the order. To prevent a dog from attacking a person, or ending such attack or preventing or ending the worrying of livestock, an authorised officer may enter any land. That power does not extend to a dwelling house or its curtilage.

As to inspection of guard dog kennels or breeding establishments, an authorised officer of the district council may enter such premises only with the consent of the occupier or under the authority of a warrant granted by a resident magistrate.

There has been considerable debate about the extent to which dogs should be kept under control on a leash. I want to be as unrestrictive as possible. Therefore, dogs will have to be kept on a leash only in pedestrian precincts, and, to prevent livestock worrying, on land where livestock are present by right, except when the dog is on the land with the authority of the landowner. However, the order includes reserve powers similar to those in existing legislation to extend the requirements, if necessary, to other roads.

There will be exceptions from those controls for working dogs such as sheep dogs, police dogs or dogs being used in a pack of hounds or for such other purposes as the Department may specify by order.

The order clarifies and reinforces the law on attacks by dogs on people and livestock. It redresses an anomaly in existing legislation which makes it an offence if a dog attacks livestock, but not if it attacks people. In future, attacks on people or livestock will both attract a fine up to a maximum of £200, or £500 if the dog was urged to attack by the owner. There will, of course, be appropriate exemptions for dogs that are used as guard dogs and for police purposes.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Is behaving in such a manner so as to cause a person apprehension of being attacked a model interpretation of an animal attacking a person, or is it specific to this order? Does my hon. Friend believe that it is so widely drawn as to lead to misunderstanding in so far as a dog barking at someone could be conceived as a dog that is about to attack?

Mr. Butler

I ask my hon. Friend whether he really believes that his example would be interpreted by the courts as meeting the second part of the definition. I accept that it is not easy to define what constitutes an attack on a person. No doubt the courts will have to interpret as they see fit. However, we believe that the way in which the order is worded should be sufficient to distinguish between those dogs which appear to be about to attack and the type of misunderstandings and fears that might arise in someone of a rather timid nature.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a point that has been raised by others. We intend to monitor that provision in the normal way. Case history will undoubtedly develop. We have considered that point with considerable care. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that we cannot tolerate people, let alone livestock, being attacked by dogs. Perhaps not all of the cases of injury that I mentioned have been caused by an attack as is here defined, but the few thousands of injuries that are treated in hospital each year are significant and demonstrate the scale of the problem. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is right to take steps that seem appropriate to overcome that problem.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I am worried about the phrase "apprehension of being attacked" in the order. Apprehension is not a strong word. I wonder whether the advice that my hon. Friend took when the order was being considered included consultations with people who know and understand dogs.

Perhaps I might give an illustration. The West Highland terrier has a great reputation, through its pedigree, for hunting. I do not believe that hunting has anything to do with it, but, at times, it has a fierce disposition. To its owner, however, it will be a loving and loyal dog. Perhaps I should tell the House that I have a West Highland terrier for which I am responsible. It can pass someone in the street to whom it will take an immediate dislike and make that clear by snarling. A timid person could become worried about the dog, but it has never attacked anyone. If the words behaving in such a manner so as to cause a person apprehension of being attacked were interpreted literally, and I took my dog on a visit to Belfast, it would be up in court in a matter of hours and be destroyed.

Mr. Butler

I hope that my hon. Friend will visit Belfast and, by all means, he may bring his dog. Should the House approve the order, I hope that the terrible fate that my hon. Friend has described will not befall his dog. If my hon. Friend comes to Northern Ireland and his dog is as he described it, I can only encourage him to keep it on a leash. In that case, the apprehension that even the most timid person might have on seeing my hon. Friend's dog's growling visage and other demonstrations of ferocity will disappear when he sees that the dog is firmly on a leash. That is how we should cope with that.

Northern Ireland farmers whose livestock are attacked will in future enjoy the same legal protection as their counterparts in Great Britain. They will be provided with a defence in proceedings arising from the shooting of a dog if the dog was worrying, or about to worry, livestock and there were no reasonable means of ending or preventing the worrying, or if the dog had been worrying livestock, had not left the vicinity and could not be identified. Those provisions remove the anomaly in existing Northern Ireland law under which, if a dog that is about to worry livestock is shot, the farmer has a defence only if the dog is shot on hill land. I am sure that the House will recognise the need to bring that legislaion at least into line with British legislation because of the suffering caused to animals and the loss experienced by farmers.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)

I take it from what the Minister has said that if the less favoured areas were to be extended before this clause came into operation a person inside the new boundary could shoot the dog, whereas he cannot do so at present?

Mr. Butler

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me on that point—he may be talking about a highly hypothetical matter—but I should be glad to seek advice on this issue. Whether the definition presently used for hill land under the relevant legislation would cover an extended area, I do not know. But I shall find out. We cannot say whether or when there will be an extension of the less favoured areas. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the point, because it may prove to be of benefit in the event of such an extension if this legislation is not implemented.

The order also introduces controls on guard dogs and breeding establishments similar to those in the Guard Dogs Act 1975 and the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. In Northern Ireland, however, controls will be based on registration by district councils as opposed to the licensing system in Great Britain. It is not proposed to charge a registration fee, but establishments will be subject to certain standards and to inspection. Guard dogs are widely used in the present security context in Northern Ireland. For that reason, and on police advice, it has been decided not to implement immediately the powers to require the presence of handlers on premises where guard dogs are used. It is considered sufficient in the meantime to require the registration of guard dog kennels and the posting of warning notices. However, those provisions will not apply to the dog on domestic premises that may occasionally operate as a "guard dog".

The working party report highlighted certain weaknesses in the Breeding of Dogs Act. It reported that requirements were evaded by the farming out of bitches to other premises, that local authorities had no powers to inspect unlicensed premises being used for breeding purposes and that there is no provision at all for puppy farms where puppies are reared for sale or export. In addition, the Act covers breeding for sale only. The provisions of the order are designed specifically to overcome those shortcomings.

To ease pressure on the present overworked courts system in Northern Ireland, the order extends the fixed penalty procedure to certain offences under the order. In addition, it will apply to offences under the Control of Greyhounds Act (Northern Ireland) 1950 and fouling offences where byelaws are made under the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972. In line with the recommendations of the working party, penalties for licensing offences should have a deterrent value, being fixed at three times the current licence fee, or £25, whichever is greater. For other offences to which a fixed penalty relates the level will be £10. The system will work as other fixed penalty systems, of which the most obvious example is the traffic penalty

I have already covered some of the points in the order where amendments were introduced after public consultation and consideration by the Northern Ireland Committee. The changes that give district councils direct responsibility for the issue of licences and remove the need for the administration of a central dog fund by the Department have been warmly welcomed by the Association of Local Authorities of Northern Ireland. We have also gone some considerable way to meet the views of dog-owning interests. For example, article 7 has been amended to provide for wider consultation with interested parties on changes in licence fees. The block licence concession has been extended to include dogs registered with organisations other than the Kennel Club, which will be listed in subordinate legislation.

We have re-examined the control of dogs on roads under article 25 and have decided to take a more flexible approach, initially restricting the requirement to put the dog on a leash to pedestrian precincts, with the option to extend to other roads if necessary.

There has been great pressure from many interests for several years seeking new dog control legislation. We hope that this order, which is designed to encourage responsible dog ownership, will make a major contribution towards solving the serious dog control problems in Northern Ireland.

Naturally, there have been questions about whether this legislation is likely to be extended to Great Britain. We have been asked whether it is a precursor of further legislation. Let me make it plain, as has been done on several occasions in the House by the Ministers responsible, that the Government have no plans so to do.

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)


7.25 pm
Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

Today we are coming to the end of a long road, because the implications of this Bill have been around in Northern Ireland since about 1975. The legislation has gone through a long consultative process, and the Minister has found out, just as I did, that once one starts the consultative process that is required for Northern Ireland legislation it becomes hard to end it. However, the Minister has decided to end the consultation and to bring this Bill before the House.

I do not complain about the fact that there have been long consultations. My only complaint is that the Minister did not take into consideration all our suggestions in Committee. For the first time in decades the House is debating dog legislation. In Committee we had a good consultative debate, and I am sorry that it did not attract more attention in the media in the rest of the United Kingdom, if only because of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who told us about some of the problems with the dog population in Northern Ireland. No one will quibble with the Minister's figures for the number of strays. In Northern Ireland stray dogs do not just go about in platoons or companies; in some areas they are almost at battalion strength, whether they are green or orange dogs.

Some of those who were involved in consultations with the Government told me that they were worried because not all of their suggestions had been taken on board. Their main anxiety is that, since this is the first such Bill, it should be monitored tightly for some time. We are travelling into the unknown with this Bill and some people are worried that dogs may be picked up and destroyed at very short notice. The British Veterinary Association believes that five days is a relativey short time. There is also worry about article 33 whereby dogs attacking or about to attack people can be lifted, summarily tried, and executed very quickly indeed. Those are just some of the issues that have emerged from the public's response.

Mr. Bowden

During the early stages of the order, did the right hon. Gentleman have consultations with and seek advice from people who know and have compassion, love and understanding for dogs? If so, whom did he consult?

Mr. Concannon

There is doubt that the problems in Northern Ireland portrayed by the Minister are correct. They first came to our attention in 1975 during discussions with the National Farmers Union and various other bodies in Northern Ireland. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all those bodies that wanted to talk to the Minister were allowed to do so. Some bodies have approached me about areas with which they are not happy, but they are matters of detail. The British Veterinary Association still wants the order to be passed.

I do not disagree with the way in which the order deals with the problems in Northern Ireland. It is necessary to bring the legislation up to date. Northern Ireland has a large problem with strays and people who do not license their dogs. However, that does not apply only to Northern Ireland. There has been a meeting of the Select Committee on Public Accounts since our last debate when certain suggestions came from the House. I was surprised to find that they came down on the side of the Committee and against the Government on the financial aspects of dog licensing. Some high-powered people appeared before the Select Committee on Public Accounts—Mr. Gordon S. Downey, CB, Comptroller and Auditor General; Mr. C. H. A. Judd, Treasury Officer of Accounts; and Sir George Moseley, KCB; Mr. G. Wedd, and Mr. J. Parker from the Department of the Environment. The Committee dealt with the problem of dog licensing in the rest of the United Kingdom. I shall return to that later, but I want to stress that we have no complaints about the legislation for dog control.

I thank the Minister for making local councils responsible for dog licences rather than the Department of Agriculture. That is where the responsibility should belong in Northern Ireland. However, as I have warned the Minister, if we are not careful we shall spoil the impact of the order in Northern Ireland unless we are seen to he treating the people of Northern Ireland fairly and justly.

The Minister said that over 50 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland do not buy licences. It would have been much better if he had said that over 50 per cent. of all the people of the United Kingdom do not buy licences. There is a problem of strays in the rest of the United Kingdom as well as in Northern Ireland. Although other areas might not have the pack problem of Northern Ireland, either in company or battalion strength, the problems in the United Kingdom are not unlike those of Northern Ireland. If the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) stays she will learn a lot about the problems from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West and no doubt enjoy his speech at the same time.

I am worried about the financial aspects of the Bill. There are only two directions in which we can go. I said in Committee that dog licensing was first introduced to raise revenue. Over the past four years dog licences have cost the Exchequer £7 million. We have now reached the ludicrous position where this year the revenue from dog licences in the United Kingdom will be only £1 milion while the cost of the licensing service will be £4 million —a loss to the Exchequer or the British taxpayer of £3 million.

I accept, as the Minister said, that this is a Northern Ireland order. I also know that if legislation works well in Northern Ireland there is a temptation to introduce it elsewhere. We learned that on the economic front. There is always that danger. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend why we are going to spoil the order for a pittance. I can understand why the Minister says that it would teach people to be good dog owners and lovers. But to increase the fee in Northern Ireland to £5 when it will be only 37½p in Britain—7s 6d as I still call it—will strike the people of Northern Ireland as being unfair, no matter how the Minister dresses it up.

The Minister says that the money will be for the administration of the scheme by local councils but we read on the back page of the Public Accounts Committee report: The whole cost of the Post Office agency, even for collection and handing over the licence money to the local authorities, is borne by the Department of the Environment. The subsidy and the £7 million that has been lost in dog licensing throughout the United Kingdom have been borne by the United Kingdom taxpayer. We are now going to charge the people of Northern Ireland £5 for dog licences whose cost will remain at 7s 6d elsewhere. Fewer rather than more people will buy dog licenses at £5. However, people in Northern Ireland are also taxpayers. I have a dog for various reasons—security being one—and I have a licence for it. Like me, it probably has more courage than sense. The last thing that I want is for the people of Northern Ireland to subsidise my dog licence through their taxes. Not only will they be charged £5 for their dog licences but they will contribute to the Exchequer by paying their whack of the £3 million shortfall into the kitty to supplement my dog licence.

Mr. Marlow

Is not the case really somewhat different? As my hon. Friend said, this money will be used to pay for the dog- warden enforcement scheme, but the money will not even be sufficient to pay for that scheme. There are dog wardens in certain districts of the United Kingdom. At present those schemes are paid for wholly by the ratepayer. The difference between this scheme and schemes in the rest of the United Kingdom is that one is by being paid for by the dog-owning public and the other is being paid for by the ratepayer. Is it not fair to argue that the dog-owning community should be more involved than ratepayers as a whole?

Mr. Concannon

The hon. Member can dress it up as he likes, but to the 1.5 million people in Northern Ireland this will be the big bad Westminster Government putting a fast one over the people of Northern Ireland. It will be as simple and as plain as that. They will think that they are again being unfairly treated. We can scoff at the licence being £5 and we can knock it down to this, that, or the other a week, but for me it is not worth the aggro and never was. We are discussing only a pittance. Even the £7 million shortfall over four years is only a pittance.

The cost of the dog licence could be increased to cover the fee collecting and so on, which would mean a substantial increase in the cost of the licence not only in Northern Ireland but in the rest of the United Kingdom. But, as the report of the Public Accounts Committee says, Governments have dodged the issue. We are told that it is not a priority. If it is not a priority, surely it cannot be a priority in Northern Ireland.

I do not wish to spoil the Bill. I want the Bill to come into operation and I know that the people of Northern Ireland—farmers and everyone else—want it to come into operation. But I do not want it and its application to be spoilt by the people of Northern Ireland thinking that they are being unfairly treated. I made this point in the Committee. I am sorry that it has been taken up because I thought that this was a perfect opportunity, for the first time, to examine the current licence fee of 37½p and to give a lead to the rest of the United Kingdom.

My opinion is that we should forget the £1 million a year collected for dog licences and to deal with this in another way. There are other ways of doing it. More than 100 local authorities in the United Kingdom have a dog warden service. The cost on the rates is negligible. The legislation is necessary and is wanted by the people of Northern Ireland, but let us not botch it by imposing an unfair financial burden. The people of Northern will see it as an unfair financial burden but we will regard £5 a year as not very much. But it will be £5 in Northern Ireland and 37½p over here. The people of Northern Ireland will see it as the Government being vindictive to them.

Mr. Adam Butler

I listened with care to the right hon. Member in Committee and today to discover what he would do. He seemed to indicate that he would put all the cost on to the rates in Northern Ireland. Will he confirm that that would be his policy?

Mr. Concannon

There are ways and means by which it could be done. It could come straight from the Exchequer. This year, £4 million will flow straight from the Exchequer to the dog lovers of the United Kingdom, and we will not do a thing about it. Yet in Northern Ireland we will do something, because we will make the people of Northern Ireland pay for a service for which we in the rest of the United Kingdom will not pay. The Department of the Environment will foot the bill. That is the difference. It will be paid for by the Department of the Environment which, by the end of this year, will, over the past four years, have paid £7 million to the Post Office for doing it.

Mr. Marlow

The right hon. Gentleman is complaining about the difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Yet, at the same time, he says that an Exchequer grant should be given to pay for the service in Northern Ireland. What will the right hon. Gentleman say to the district councils in the United Kingdom which have dog warden schemes? Should they be paid for by Exchequer grant as well? If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be consistent, he must be wholly consistent.

Mr. Concannon

That is what I am trying to be. The people of Northern Ireland are part and parcel of the United Kingdom. They should not be treated differently. They have different problems but, financially, they should not be treated differently.

Dog owners have been subsidised this year by the Department of the Environment—there are no ifs and buts about that—to the tune of £4 million, or £7 million over four years. Governments — I am sure that the Labour Government was the same—do not consider this matter to be a priority. It is small beer—a few million pounds; it is not worth the hassle.

Although the legislation is necessary for Northern Ireland, I do not want it to get off on the wrong footing with the people of Northern Ireland. I argued this in Committee. Unfortunately, judging from the responses of the people of Northern Ireland—I am sure that the same response will come from other quarters after I have sat down—this is exactly what will happen. The people of Northern Ireland will see this as a penal form of taxation which does not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. Not only will we in the rest of the United Kingdom be subsidised, but people tend to forget that those who are in work in Northern Ireland are also taxpayers. They pay their share of what is paid by the Department of the Environment for our subsidised dog licences. It might not be much, but the fact that they contribute to it will not be lost on the people of Northern Ireland.

I did not wish to speak at length, but I thought it important to tell the Minister that I am sorry, after all this time, that we are still arguing about the financial aspects. But for the financial aspects the order would have gone through on the nod. A short five-minute speech from each side of the House would have been enough to see it through.

Mr. Marlow

indicated dissent.

Mr. Concannon

No? I am going on my experience of Northern Ireland orders that go through late at night. I am sorry that I still find myself standing at the Dispatch Box pointing out the financial penalties that will be imposed on the people of Northern Ireland, even though I want this legislation. I know that it is needed in Northern Ireland, and I did not want it to be sullied by disagreement over the financial aspects. After all, the cost could come out of the petty cash tin of the Department of the Environment; it represents hardly anything in cash terms. But here we are, having an unnecessary argument about it.

I should be only too delighted if the Minister would see his way to considering the financial aspects again. I would then wish the order well. I hope that it will help to solve the problems and to prevent some of the terrible attacks that take place not only on animals but on individuals and property in Northern Ireland. Even if the Minister did not take notice of what we said in Committee, I should have thought that he would take notice of the report of the Public Accounts Committee on dog licences. If he had done so, I am sure that he would have proposed a different means of financing the scheme.

7.50 pm
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

As the House will know, I rarely intervene on Northern Ireland affairs. I do so tonight because I believe there are wider long-term implications involved in the draft order. I have an interest to declare in that my wife and I have responsibility for the care and control of a West Highland terrier. It is a lively dog which at times tends to be rather aggressive, which is inevitable with a dog coming from a breed trained to hunt—not that I have or will use my dog for hunting.

I am appalled at some of the proposals in the order. There is no doubt that many people feel that it is bound to be used as a prototype in future for the rest of the United Kingdom. An article in Dog World of 6 August 1982 states: These proposals are of far wider significance than Northern Ireland alone. If they go through, then close attention may well be paid to them in the rest of the United Kingdom. The order must have been drafted by a person with an almost pathological hatred of dogs—at the very least, with little understanding and knowledge of them. The impression has been given that the order is supported by various groups and organisations, veterinary surgeons, and so on. An organisation which has not so far been mentioned is the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, the president of which, Mr. Desmond J. Thompson, in a letter dated 28 March 1983, told me: I stress that as a profession we are in favour of the sensible control of dogs, but when one links the definition of 'attacking a person' with the ultimate penalty of automatic death of the animal, then I feel that this is unacceptable in any legislation on dog control. That is what the order will mean.

I was unconvinced by the reply of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to my intervention. In effect, he said, "If you have a dog on a lead in Belfast, a situation could not arise where anybody in the street would have a sufficient degree of apprehension so that the court might, if the case were brought before it, take action under the draft order." With respect, he does not understand dogs and he certainly does not understand West Highland terriers. I could have my dog on a lead, under control—this has happened in Brighton—and, because the lead is a certain length and the pavement is narrow and the dog might not like the hat being worn by the person coming towards us, it will make that clear by leaping forward, thereby probably showing its aggressive instincts, snarling and showing its teeth. Its bark is there rather than its bite.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Never take it to Brighton's nudist beach.

Mr. Bowden

That is an unfair intervention. I am being serious.

The action that I have described could cause serious apprehension to a person who did not like or understand dogs. There could be cases of malicious intent arising out of such circumstances.

When elderly dog owners study the order, it will cause them concern because in Northern Ireland their dogs could be brought before the court. I do not want to sound over-sentimental, but for many people in Northern Ireland—indeed, throughout the United Kingdom—dogs provide companionship and friendship. For those on their own, the elderly, and for those who have lost their families and relations, dogs can be the only thing life is worth living for, and the House should give due weight to that.

I believe that animals have rights and that the order is an attack on the rights of one group of animals. Nobody, in or outside the House, would do other than support sensible controls and responsible dog ownership. It is disgraceful that some owners should allow their dogs to foul pavements, not keep them properly under control on leads in the streets and allow them to endanger life by letting them run loose in the roads. The most severe penalties should be imposed to prevent that happening. Keeping dogs under control is vital because they can, and sometimes do, cause accidents and put human life at risk. That group represents a minority of dog owners, and they should not be used as the basis for an attack on the animals collectively.

We have discussed the costs. On 13 April the RSPCA wrote to me about that, saying: There is real concern in Ulster, which we are unable to appreciate fully over here, that the Ulster SPCA—currently caring for all the stray dogs in the province on behalf of the Ulster Constabulary—will be replaced as the 'agent' by more than a score of district councils, each having its own shelter. The implications are interesting. I do not want to be over-humorous or to put into context something that is fundamentally serious, but one can almost hear somebody claiming that dogs will have to be segregated into Protestants and Catholics.

Mr. Fitt

I was going to suggest that.

Mr. Bowden

It would be utterly ludicrous for anybody to suggest that, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) would not really suggest it.

I was not convinced by my hon. Friend's closing comments that the order would not at some time in future apply to other parts of the United Kingdom. He said that there were no plans for that to happen, but we have heard that from Governments in the past, only to find plans emerging a few years later because of so-called changing circumstances or experience in other parts of the United Kingdom. I warn the Minister that if any such order were introduced to apply to any other part of the United Kingdom — including Brighton — he would have a tremendous battle on his hands.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not only monitor the order carefully but will assure us that within one year there will be a full and detailed review of it, with a report to Parliament on how it has been operating and that, unless the House is satisfied that it has been operating effectively, immediate changes will be made.

7.59 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)

The order has made a great deal of interesting progress since it first appeared on the Order Paper. That progress has resulted in a rather more acceptable system of dog control than that which was first proposed. After the public consultation period, the Minister produced no fewer than six pages of proposed amendments. After the Northern Ireland Committee met and discussed them, the proposed amendments reappeared, but this time there were more than seven pages of them. That would not have happened if the folk who are affected by the order and hon. Members had been satisfied with the proposal as it first appeared.

We who represent the people of Northern Ireland are still not satisfied with the present form of the order. Like the curate's egg, it is good in parts. The order does a number of things which need to be done, but it still has serious deficiences. It is a classic example of the evils of direct rule. If the order had appeared not as an Order in Council but as a Bill, it would have had a proper Committee stage and many of the matters to which we object would have been deleted by argument and vote. However, that is not the case. We are left now with an order which has serious deficiences, some of which may prove fatal.

On 24 March I met farmers from the Coleraine area who had recently suffered considerable loss from sheep worrying. There were 50 or 60 people at the meeting. When I asked how many of them had suffered loss or damage as a result of dogs attacking their flocks, all except two held up their hands. I said, "You are very lucky, aren't you?" They said, "Actually, no. We do not keep sheep. We came along to see what the meeting was about." The rest of the people at that meeting were there because they had suffered loss or damage. One would find much the same result wherever a meeting of farmers was held in Northern Ireland. At some time, every sheep farmer can expect the unwelcome attentions of killer dogs.

However, those farmers were practical men. They understood the limitations of the law and what could and could not be done. I pointed out to them that this was a control of dogs order, not a sheep protection order. Once that is clear, one begins to look at the subject rather more carefully than when one is embroiled in the emotional sight of dead sheep and lambs. Once the farmers saw that, they began to question the strengths and weaknesses of the order as I believe it has not been questioned in the Department of Agriculture or by the leaders of the National Farmers Union.

I welcome the fact that the Minister intends to bring the livestock protection section of the order—articles 28 to 30 — into operation within two months of the order being approved. He intends, apparently, to bring the remainder of the order into operation bit by bit. I wonder whether he will monitor the effects of each step before introducing the next. I believe that he would be wise to do that. I wonder whether there will be a review of the order in future. I shall return to that point, because the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) did not express a view about it.

Farmers in Northern Ireland have expressed the fear that there may be further delay in the implementation of the order. However, the main problem is not delay, but how the law will be enforced. That is the crux of the matter. One speaker at the meeting to which I referred commented that a mountain of paper, no matter how well-intentioned, would not stop one sheep-worrying. We shall want to see how the law is enforced and how well it carries out its basic purpose of ensuring responsible dog ownership and, although it is not spelt out clearly, reducing the large numbers of dogs which are at present running around in Northern Ireland. There is no point in closing our eyes to the fact that one of the order's primary objects is to reduce the dog population.

There is difficulty in identifying a killer dog. How does one know that a dog likes mutton until it has sampled a live sheep? There is no way. I speak as a practical farmer. No one can identify a dog that will kill before it kills. All farmers who keep sheep have a simple straight forward view of that. They say, "Every dog is a potential killer." I believe that that is accurate. All dogs, whether small or large, are natural hunting animals. All dogs are potential killers and, in certain circumstances, will become killers of livestock. There is no point in saying, "My dog is perfectly well behaved. He would not touch a flea." In different circumstances, that dog can become a thoroughly vicious and dangerous animal. The most dangerous sheep-killing dogs are sheepdogs, because they know precisely what they are doing.

How is it intended to enforce legislation? Councils, the regions or perhaps the Ulster SPCA will provide wardens. Dog wardens will be employed, given a status and, I assume, some training and certain hours during which they are supposed to carry out their duties. If my reading of the position is right, some councils will expect them to work part-time only as dog wardens.

It is essential that there should be guidelines as to the type of people who are to be employed on this work. They must be carefully selected. I believe that they must have an understanding of animals, especially dogs, before they can do their job properly. The guidelines must ensure uniformity in the type of people employed on this important work.

There must be training for dog wardens or dog catchers. I do not know how the Minister or the councils will go about that aspect of the work. I fear that the dog wardens will learn on the job. I do not believe that that is satisfactory. I assume that regulations will be drawn up governing the employment and training of dog wardens. I should like an assurance that the House will have an opportunity to consider those regulations before wardens are employed.

A warden will require to have not only his working hours defined, but a certain amount of equipment. Among the items of equipment that the man or woman will need will be a vehicle to get round the countryside. Whenever he arrives at a farm where sheep-killing is taking place, he will be confronted with the problem of catching the dog. The farmer or his servant can go out and shoot a dog that is worrying, is about to worry or has just stopped worrying livestock. Can the warden do the same thing? If not, how is he to get his hands on the dog, which has no particular desire to be caught? It is not an easy task. If the warden sees the dog in the distance and cannot catch it, the farmer will shoot it. We are blinding ourselves to the realities and the practicalities of how the thing will work on the ground if we try to deny that point.

What will be the cost of this service? I assume that since we last discussed this matter in November, in the light of all the discussions that took place in the Committee and all the discussions and correspondence there have been on the subject, the Minister has had a very careful survey carried out into the actual cost of the service. Therefore, fresh figures must be available. My understanding is that the £5 licence is expected to cover half of the total cost. I wonder what the long-term situation will be. For how long will councils be expected to get half the money from the licence fee and the other half out of the rates?

What is to be the role of the police in this matter? It has already been said that the Chief Constable and his men are otherwise employed. We appreciate that the RUC is employed on more serious matters than catching sheepdogs and controlling other dogs in Northern Ireland, but the police have a role to play. I strongly suspect that, no matter how many dog wardens we employ, the police will still have a large and important role to play.

One aspect that seems to have been ignored is that there is a substantial shift of responsibility from the police to the dog wardens and the councils, including a shift of responsibility for keeping and caring for dogs that are taken into custody, as it were. Until now the RUC has been paying the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for caring for and for going out and picking up unwanted animals. They are taken into the society's kennels, kept there for a time and then given to a new owner or destroyed. For this the police pay a sum of money each year to the society. How much is spent on that at the present time? It might be rather more than we think. Certainly it should be enough to cover the cost. I assume it must be, because I do not see how the society could carry on with the task unless its costs were covered.

The £5 tax is not only an assigned revenue but an open-ended commitment. It is, I believe, a most dangerous commitment which is to be put on the shoulders of the dog owners, because, as I have already said, it is intended that eventually the licence fee will cover the total cost of the service.

A number of possibilities flow from this position. We can have at one end of the scale a completely gold-plated dog warden service which will have 100 per cent. effective control of dogs and cost what the gold-plating indicates — a very high sum indeed; a direct tax on the dog owners of Northern Ireland. Alternatively, we can have an extremely poor dog warden service which will be totally ineffective and bring the law into disrepute.

I should like to go further than the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). If the total cost of this service were placed on the shoulders of the councils and the councillors, I believe that they would take a far more responsible attitude. As long as the councils can say that the dog owners must pay, there will be pressure on the council to provide the gold-plated service. On the other hand, in a town where there is pressure from rising rates, there will be pressure in the other direction—to have a poor service.

I compare town and country in this context. The council with a large rural hinterland will be under pressure from the farmers and stockholders. That will be the paramount pressure on such a council. In the towns, however, the pressure will be the other way. It will be from the ratepayers, who will be seeking to keep the rates down, whether or not the dogs are controlled. It is wonderful what another £5 or £10 on the rates can do to a person's willingness to put up with dog dirt on the streets. I believe that most people in the towns would resent the increase in the rates which would be necessary to pay for the service. In either case, pressure on the council is not, I believe, likely to make it show responsibility, for it is the wrong sort of pressure.

If the cost falls totally on the rates, the councils, individually and collectively, and possibly even on party political lines—but that does not matter—can make a judgment as to what is needed and reasonable in the circumstances of their own areas.

A point was made earlier about the taxation problems of councils here. The point about the rates, which apparently was missed by the Minister, lies in the fact that the rates burden is directed to the problem within the council area. It is not general taxation throughout the United Kingdom; it is pinpointed on their own locality.

Mr. Adam Butler

A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman made a remark to the effect that the councils would be able to tell the dog owners that they would have to find more money. If I understood him correctly, he appeared to be suggesting that district councils would be able to dictate the level of the licence fee. That, of course, is incorrect. The licence fee would be adjusted by the Department in the light of the costs of the whole operation. There would be no question of dictation.

Secondly, as part of his argument the hon. Gentleman instanced the larger town, where the tendency would be for the rates to be kept down because of the pressures from ratepayers. In those circumstances, surely it would be better to have sufficient income through a licence fee to encourage that particular council to run an efficient service rather than to succumb to the pressures of the ratepayers to do the minimum necessary.

Mr. Ross

Having studied the order with some care, I appreciate that the power to raise the licence fee does not lie with the councils. Is the Minister seriously saying that he can easily match that power, which lies in his hands, with the view expressed elsewhere that in the long run it is expected that the licence fee will meet the full cost? This means that there are going to be a lot of dogs licensed for £5 or the fee is going to go up if, as I understand it, at the present time the £5 licence will cover only half the cost.

Is the Minister saying that the Department will stand up to all the councillors in Northern Ireland if they arrive at its doorstep saying that the service is costing them X pounds in rates, the licence fee is not big enough and that they must have more money?

To aid my contention, I shall cite firearms certificates in Northern Ireland. Some years ago, before the price started to rise, a firearms certificate cost 7s. 6d. It now costs about £25 or £20 for a new firearms certificate or £13 or £14 for a renewal. That rise is far above the inflation rate in Northern Ireland and far above a reasonable cost of covering the service. That shows what can happen when one starts building a little empire for the control of any item that a person has, whether it be a gun or a dog.

I know that arguments can be made for firearms certificates, but the arguments for the high cost of firearms fees are no more valid than the arguments that will be put forward in a few years when dog licence fees rise to the same level. However, councils have only to use their best endeavours to provide a reasonable service. That attitude can cover a multitude of sins.

Another aspect of the financing of the dogs order is fines and fixed penalties. Councils will not receive fines or fixed penalties. However, as they are a direct result of the activities of their work force, I wonder whether it would be a means of getting further finance for the service if in some way the fines could be given back to the councils. Would that help the councils in the financing of the scheme? Will the Minister make it possible to pay fixed penalties, not only to the clerk of petty sessions but to the local council officer? At any rate, councils might be able to charge a collection fee, as the Post Office intended to do.

The concern of the British Veterinary Association has already been mentioned. That body has written to all of us who are concerned with the order. It says: Article 2(2), 'Attacking a Person' (a) and (b) together with Article 33(1) order that a dog which has attacked a person must be destroyed. A dog may however attack a person who deliberately sets out to enrage it or may attack a person because its owner incites it to do so. In these circumstances the dog is not at fault and destruction is not an appropriate punishment". That is an accurate statement of fact. In other words, the poor dog will be bumped off because its owner is a particularly nasty character and probably should not have a dog anyway. That is the danger that is always present in mandatory sentencing of any description, whether it is for an animal or a human being. When the sentence is mandatory, the courts lose their discretion and the right to order a lesser punishment.

The BVA also states: Also, nervous individuals may imagine a dog is going to attack when it is merely recognising their presence"— I assume by barking or something. It further states: The Order could make cognisance of these considerations possible if the definition under Article 2(2)(a) was worded as an unprovoked attack upon the person and Article 2(2)(b) was worded as behaving in such a manner as to cause a reasonable person apprehension of being seriously attacked". The hon. Member for Kemptown said that he had a terrier and that some people might be frightened when that dog behaved in a certain fashion. However, if, instead of a terrier, he had an Alsatian or an Irish Wolfhound and it growled, many more people would be frightened. Therefore, we must consider not only the dog's behaviour but its size, its appearance and whether that breed has an evil reputation, as Alsatians have.

I would be frightened of some dogs growling and barking at me, but I would not be in the slightest frightened of other dogs. How can someone go to court, even a perfectly honest person, and say, "That dog barked at me and I thought that it was going to bite." One cannot say that. Some people might have malicious intent or might be easily frightened. In either case, the poor old dog will suffer unjustifiably either for the sins of the person who is setting out to tempt or enrage it or because a person is of an exceedingly nervous disposition. A young man of 18 or 20 is not likely to be as easily frightened of a barking dog as an old lady of 70.

There is also the problem of young dogs, which like to play and gambol about. A young dog will often run up to a child, excitedly wagging its tail, and then knock the child down. The child goes home screaming and the parents complain that the dog has attacked their child when the animal has done nothing of the sort. Under the terms of the order that dog would be sentenced to death. This is not a light matter. It cannot easily be resolved, unless discretion is given to the courts.

One could say a great deal more about the order. I shall restrict myself to a few brief comments on one or two of the articles. Under article 23, a dog might be destroyed within five days, yet elsewhere the order states that a person has seven days in which to produce a licence. I do not see why the poor dog should not be given an extra two days to live. It would not cost very much. Perhaps in the intervening period the owner would turn up.

In article 50 there is a curious difference between paragraphs (a) and (b). In (a) it says that a council may make a charge for the collection and disposal of an unwanted dog". In (b) it says that it may make a payment of such amount as the council may determine in respect of the sterilisation of a dog". This seems to impose a charge and make a grant for essentially the same purpose—the reduction of the dog population. For the council to make a charge for the collection and disposal of an unwanted dog is a foolish proposal which I missed last time but which has since been brought to my attention. The more I have thought about it, the more certain I am that councils should not make a charge for the service.

If there is to be a charge for getting rid of an unwanted dog, far too many irresponsible people will just chuck the dog in the boot of the car, drive 20 miles into the country and throw it out. If they knew that the local council would dispose of the dog for nothing, they would be willing to ask it to make arrangements to do so. As a result, dogs would not be let loose in the countryside. This will be especially important in the first few years of the operation of the order when people who have just tolerated dogs will want to get rid of them. The Government should not make a charge and pay a subsidy under the same article for the purpose of reducing the dog population.

I welcome quite a few of the provisions, not least the fact that in large measure this is a consolidation order. I welcome particularly that a licence will be necessary before someone can purchase a dog. Some folk think that this will not stop impulse buying, but I believe it will and that it is a step in the right direction. The increase in penalties is also satisfactory. If penalties were to remain low, there would be no incentive for people to care for their dogs.

I also welcome wardens, although my welcome for them is more lukewarm than for the other two items. Wardens are needed, especially when the police are so much involved in other things. There will be at least one warden or perhaps two wardens in most council areas trying to control the dog problem and check on licences. A large part of their duties will be to ensure that dogs are licensed. Above all, the wardens and the police will need the support of the courts when those who transgress are prosecuted. The legislation cannot do the job for which it has been designed unless penalties are imposed. If they are not imposed, the order will be nonsense. Some of it may turn out to be nonsense in any case.

Since we last discussed the subject in the Northern Ireland Committee the Minister has gone halfway to making this a pretty good order and control mechanism. If he had gone the whole way and put the entire cost on the rates, perhaps retaining 30p more as a registration fee than as a licence, it would have been better. Even if dog licences were abolished, there would still have to be a system of registering dogs. There is no point in trying to control them if there is no record of their owners. If the Minister had left the licence fee at 30p, or even if he had brought in a slightly higher registration fee, I would not have complained. Because he is putting half of the cost on the rates and doing half by means of what is essentially a tax, I have grave difficulty in supporting the order.

For many years people have wanted something to be done about dogs in Northern Ireland. Because of all the argument, discussion, consultation and the nonsense that has been talked at times, and the emotion about sheep being killed and dogs attacking children, everyone expected far too much. Expectations were raised to an unwarranted level. We are now slowly but surely coming back down to earth, realising not only the implications but the severe limitations of the order.

It is extremely difficult to devise sensible laws for the control of dogs. They are the only large, carnivorous hunting animals to be kept in large numbers of homes. They are different from cats, because they are trainable. They are also much bigger and stronger—big enough and strong enough to attack and seriously injure not only livestock but human beings. They are in a special category in may ways because they are so easily trainable, but ultimately they retain the wild hunting instinct which makes them extremely difficult to control.

This legislation will stand or fall on how well it is enforced and on the extent to which it reduces the number of dogs. It will stand or fall on practicalities rather than theory. With all respect to the hon. Member for Kemptown, to whom I listened with interest, we shall not know how well it is doing its job in 12 months. It is likely to be at least three years before we can judge, but al the end of that time we shall need a thoroughgoing and detailed investigation into its effectiveness throughout the Province. Such a review is especially necessary if the Minister is correct in his assessment that it will riot be extended. It is all very well for the Government to say that they do not intend to use this as a pilot scheme for the rest of the United Kingdom. It will certainly not be accepted as a pilot scheme if it fails, but if it proves effective the extension of the relevant parts of it to Great Britain will follow as surely as night follows day. One cannot escape that conclusion.

I dislike many aspects of the order, especially the financing arrangements, but I welcome certain other provisions. Had it been a Bill that we could debate and amend, great improvements could have been made, but we are left with a curate's egg—and the rotten spots may well eventually destroy the whole egg.

8.37 pm
Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

It was with some diffidence that I contemplated intervening in the debate. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), I do not usually intervene in matters relating to Northern Ireland, but the subject of dogs and their control is dear to my heart.

I start from a simple proposition. I am deeply concerned about the suffering caused to stray animals. Many have their lives cut short because they are unwanted and no homes can be found for them. I accept that part and parcel of the problem is the nuisance caused by large numbers of uncontrolled dogs through fouling pavements, sheep worrying, road accidents and the like, but I shall not dwell on that aspect as it has already been dealt with quite fully.

My main motivation is concern for the welfare of these unfortunate animals. Anyone who has seen, as I have so often seen, the miserable faces of those in dogs' homes and pounds, looking up with melting eyes in the hope of a new home and release from the pound, will understand why I feel so strongly about this and why I and many others have campaigned for years for better control throughout the United Kingdom. I join others in saying that I am deeply sorry that Northern Ireland has been singled out for the order. In this sense I do not regard it as being unfavourably treated. I am sorry that the rest of the United Kingdom is not being given the opportunity that is being granted to Northern Ireland.

Successive Governments of both complexions have been extraordinarily tardy in dealing with the problem and they hve been marked by procrastination and prevarication. I am sorry to learn from my hon. Friend the Minister that the Government have no plans to introduce a scheme somewhat similar, or in parallel, for the rest of the United Kingdom. I am tempted to use language which would be unparliamentary but I shall not do so as I have great respect for the House. I found the comment that my hon. Friend made towards the end of his speech unsatisfactory and to smack of double standards, which I detest.

I give the order a somewhat qualified welcome. As the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) has said, it contains, like the curate's egg, good and bad parts. I wish that the Government had introduced a Bill instead of an order as that would have enabled us to table amendments. I noted that the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) insisted on referring to the order as a Bill.

I envisage problems with the increased licence fee and with the moneys going to the district councils. I am delighted that the middle man, so to speak, has been cut out and that the money will go straight to the councils, but there appears to be no duty on local authorities to spend the money on dog control and dog wardens. It is conceivable that local authorities will be tempted to shortcut or under-play the provisions of the order and not to use the moneys in the way intended. In that sense, I am sorry that there is not to be a dog fund. I should not object to there being one for each local authority instead of a central fund. It is a pity that the moneys will not be earmarked for the purpose of controlling dogs.

Enforcement is all important. Detailed work has been undertaken on controlling dogs and for the institution of dog wardens by a committee which has a rather cumbersome name. Its title is the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society, of which I have the honour to be the vice-chairman. It comprises not only animal welfare organisations but the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and other bodies that are concerned about animals—dogs especially—and the problems that they can cause. Over the years it has done a great deal of work. The working party report to which my hon. Friend referred, which appeared in 1976, largely mirrored the report of JACOPIS, which appeared the year before. I think that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The report contained a complete network of the ideas that JACOPIS wanted to put forward and to be accepted, many of which the Minister has said he will be introducing through the order, including identity tags, which are important in enforcement.

It is extremely important that a dog warden scheme should be carefully formulated by well-trained dog wardens, with such provisions as identity tags closely allied to it. I trust that the dog wardens will have the power to ask people who have dogs that are not, apparently, licensed for their name and address and to follow it up. I am not sure from the order whether that is the position. It is vital that dog wardens should be able to pursue people who apparently have unlicensed dogs. That is a key point.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Lady has mentioned the identification of dogs. That subject was raised in Committee. If all dogs had to be tattooed, there would be no possibility of concealing the dog's original owner. Would not that be an improvement on a dog carrying a disc that could be removed?

Miss Fookes

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right. I was stating the views of the committee with which I am associated. Tattooing is a more controversial means of identification as some people dislike it, but it is one to which I am attracted because it has considerable merit. Public opinion will have to be educated in that direction. Meanwhile, a proper identity tag would go a long way towards dealing with the problem, although I accept that it would not necessarily be completely successful. That would be much better than the present position, especially if the tag was brightly coloured and could be changed from year to year. It would then be possible to see at a glance not only whether the dog had been licensed but whether it had a current licence. I do not wish to dwell on that subject for too long because other hon. Members wish to speak. However, it is a point well worth getting right, having been carefully thought out.

Mr. Adam Butler

My hon. Friend's vast experience and the time that she has devoted to these matters necessitate listening to her. She may well be on to a good point about discs and that should be followed up. The Government have discussed possibilities along those lines. My reason for intervening in her speech is that she will find in article 41 of the order the answer to her question. An officer may request the name and address of any person who appears to have charge or actually has charge of a dog.

Miss Fookes

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. Justifiable fear has been expressed that dog wardens might have to learn on the job and thus make many mistakes en route. I trust that that will not be the case. The Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society has given seminars in this country for those engaged in dog warden services or who are likely to be so. Training sessions have been given and it has produced a training handbook, a copy of which I have obtained. It is a splendid handbook in loose-leaf form which deals with all kinds of matter which would be useful to a dog warden, including such topics as the type of equipment needed to catch dogs, how it might be used and its advantages and disadvantages. There is already a great deal of expertise, and I am sure that that organisation would be only too happy to hold seminars and training sessions in Northern Ireland once the order is enacted. I hope that I can talk to the Minister about that after the debate.

My next point has already been dealt with, so I shall be brief. I do not accept the suggestion that all is well when a dog is destroyed because someone has been attacked, or is apprehensive of being attacked. Only yesterday, the all-party mental health group held a meeting at which a very distinguished professor spoke about phobias and how they could be cured. He said that one phobia affecting many people was the irrational fear of a dog or cat. Someone with such a phobia might think that a dog was about to attack him. It might not be the case, but the person's fear would be real. The wording of the order cannot be as loosely interpreted as my hon. Friend the Minister would have us believe. Indeed, it is exceedingly specific and leaves no room for discretion.

Someone who was attacked by a dog might have provoked it in the first place. Some people, particularly youngsters, will tease animals and enjoy working them up into a frenzy until they attack. If that were the case, what would the legal position be? The person involved might have been attacked by the dog, but perhaps brought it on himself by his behaviour. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider that point, because it is worrying. Indeed, that is one of the matters that particularly worried the British Small Animals Veterinary Association. I had a meeting with Mr. Thompson, its president, only recently and he pinpointed that as a major anxiety. He is a Northern Ireland veterinary surgeon, practising there, so he is well aware of the problems that could arise.

The period for which a dog is detained before it can be destroyed is being reduced from seven to five days. It can be argued that an owner who wants his dog back will take steps to that end within five days, but it still seems a rather short time and I cannot see the objection to having the period of seven rather than five days. Indeed, the British Small Animals Veterinary Association did a survey and found that many dogs in the main centres of the United Kingdom were retrieved in those last days. Under this legislation they would have been destroyed by then. Therefore, I hope that that point will be considered in any review of the legislation. I hope that there will be such a review after 12 months or two years so that we can see the effect of the order.

Although I have, in a sense, given the order a qualified welcome, it goes considerably further than any other legislation for the United Kingdom. Therefore, I welcome it as a big step in the right direction, even if it does not go as far as I would wish. Finally, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to impress on fellow Ministers the urgent need to introduce such legislation for the United Kingdom as a whole. All organisations concerned with animal welfare feel strongly that that should be so. This issue has brought together not only those who care for dogs, but also those who do not care for them, and that is unusual. I hope that the order will be accepted.

8.54 pm
Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I almost hesitate to speak after the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) who speaks with such obvious knowledge of the subject. I had not intended to speak with such seriousness on the matter and I hope that she will forgive me for the way in which I intend to approach the order.

When we discussed the order in Committee, although we approached it from different angles, we agreed that it was not entirely welcomed in Northern Ireland. I recognise that there is a problem in the rural communities where the dog population is savaging sheep. We do not have that problem in Belfast. Although I recognise that problem from what I hear from representatives of the agricultural community, in Belfast I have never seen such a dog problem as would warrant this legislation.

I think that, in the dying weeks of this Parliament, the Government have seen fit to introduce another in the long litany of coercion measures that have been aimed for many centuries at the people in Ireland, but this time the legislation is aimed at a most vulnerable section of the population in Northern Ireland—the dog section. There are people in Northern Ireland — they include dog owners—who are worried about the effects of the order. If the dogs knew what it contained, they would be even more worried.

Many of the articles, especially articles 22 to 24, will be utterly unenforceable in the area that I represent and know so well. For however long we stay here and discuss the order seriously, it will be regarded as nonsensical in some parts of Belfast. I think, in particular, of several estates that have been mentioned many times in other respects — Ballymurphy, Turf Lodge, New Barnsley, Divis Tower, New Lodge Road, Ardoyne, and Glencairn. In each and every one of those estates it will be impossible for a dog warden, dog catcher or whatever fancy title he may be given, to apprehend what he regards as stray dogs.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said that animals also have rights. I should like to take up that point in a little detail. Article 23 states that a dog warden can go anywhere in Northern Ireland—I have already said that that is impossible—after what he regards as a stray dog. Article 23 gives him authority to capture such a dog and take it to some place which is known as a pound. We already know in Northern Ireland that under section 12 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 a person can be arrested and detained on suspicion of being a terrorist. Under Article 23 of this order, a dog can be arrested, detained and executed on suspicion of being a stray. If dogs have rights, not much consideration appears to have been given to them.

I shall carry that example a little further. A Catholic dog on the estate of Ballymurphy and a Protestant dog on the estate of Glencairn, which is just across the road, are doing no one any harm. They are not eating sheep or barking at soldiers or chasing army vehicles as they normally do on those estates. They are lying there enjoying the summer sunshine, when all of a sudden they look round to find that they are being set upon by this new innovation— the dog warden or dog snatcher. He has a net, or ropes., or some other paraphernalia to help him to capture those poor, inoffensive dogs.

The dog warden then takes the dogs to the pound. I hope that the Minister can explain the pound in more detail. Is it the equivalent of a dogs' Long Kesh? Those dogs have commited no offence. When they are taken into this dogs' Long Kesh, will they be given cellular accommodation, or will they be put into the pound? As the hon. Member for Kemptowrt asked, will Catholic dogs and Protestant dogs be put into the same compound? With the highly dangerous state of tension in Northern Ireland, there could be serious objections to dogs from those two estates being put together. I am sure that the eagle eye of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will have detected the probably sinister motivation behind putting dogs together, because if that were allowed to continue we may reach a stage in Northern Ireland where we have canine ecumenism, and there is no saying where that trend could end.

Mr. Adam Butler

I did not wish to intervene while the hon. Gentleman was in full flood, but he has already spoilt his argument, because the example that he gave us was of a happy relationship between a Protestant dog and a Catholic dog who were lying in the sun together. Why should they be segregated in the pound?

Mr. Fitt

They were not lying in the sun together. Ballymurphy is on one side of the road and Glencairn on the other. A Protestant dog would not dare go into Ballymurphy, and the same is true of a Catholic dog and the Glencairn estate. The dogs were lying quite happily in their own estates. The hon. Member for Antrim, North will agree that there was serious trouble in Northern Ireland when prisoners with different political allegiances were put together in the compound at Long Kesh.

The dogs would be justified in feeling incensed at being put in the pound, because they would have committed no offence, but what will happen if they start to foul their cells? Will they lose remission? I doubt whether remission will have a great effect on the dogs. All those matters will create problems, because, as many hon. Members have said, Northern Ireland is a place apart.

The most important matter of all is whether male dogs and female dogs will be allowed to live together in the compounds. If that happens, there is the danger that we may be in the process of breeding a new generation of dogs that will have absolutely no respect for law and order and will harass foot patrols if they are ever freed.

That was from the dog's point of view, but the dog warden is a more serious problem. How will he be recognised?

Mr. Bowden

Does the hon. Gentleman see any serious implications if a Catholic dog were to mate with a Protestant dog?

Mr. Fitt

I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Antrim, North would put down a motion praying that the order be annulled.

However, to be totally serious — I hope that the House does not believe that I have been less than serious in what I have said up to now—will the dog warden or the dog snatcher have a uniform? If he enters an estate such as those that I have mentioned, he will not have a uniform on when he comes out. Will he have a badge? I think the hon. Member for Drake said that a dog warden would be entitled to walk up to someone anywhere and ask for his name and address. The army and the police are afraid to do that unless they have guns. Many people who have refused to give their address have finished up in Castlereagh interrogation centre. It is not as easy as it might seem. We are talking, not about an English city, but about Northern Ireland.

It may be that a dog handler will apprehend or lift a dog in Coleraine, Bellaghy or Downpatrick, but not one dog will be lifted from the other areas that I have mentioned. Indeed, Belfast bookmakers—who are no fools when it comes to taking bets—are already laying long odds on the first dog to be apprehended under this legislation. They are laying even longer odds on the second dog to be apprehended under this legislation. There is no possibility that this legislation can be enforced.

Why initiate legislation which is completely unenforceable and which will eventually bring the whole concept of the order into disrepute? How many dog wardens will the Belfast city council need to employ to apprehend all the so-called stray dogs, which, the Minister seemed to imply, were to be found mostly on the working-class estates, both Catholic and Protestant, whereas there are not so many stray dogs in the Upper Malone road areas of Belfast?

If the Minister is right in saying that the problems exist on those estates, I can tell him now that he will find such actions impossible. If one wants to be a little humorous about it, to have a Protestant dog catcher going into an estate and arresting a Catholic dog—and vice versa—is just unimaginable. It just would not happen. Although I may say that in a frivolous way, there are serious connotations. We all know how hated the traffic warden is. I notice that even the Tories do not like them. The same would apply to dog wardens in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Drake mentioned dogs fouling the streets. I have a small flat in London, and the streets in Ballymurphy are not half as foul as the streets one or two minutes walk away from the House. If Parliament cannot legislate for an area within walking distance of the House, how does it propose to legislate for Northern Ireland?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland have raised serious objections to the higher licence fee that is to be charged in Northern Ireland — £5 compared with 37½p elsewhere. Great exception will be taken to that. The people of Northern Ireland are perfectly entitled to resent being asked to pay what I regard as an exorbitant fee.

There are many families on the working-class estates where there is high unemployment to whom a dog is a comfort. I have yet to see a family from any estate in west or north Belfast — or in Belfast for that matter —deliberately or even accidentally ill-treating a dog. I do not say that people in Northern Ireland are more kind to dogs than people on this side of the water, but I have yet to see a family in Northern Ireland deliberately ill-treating a dog.

Many of those families will not have £5 for the licence. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was right to say that a family which could not find the £5 might be tempted to drive into the country to lose the dog. That would defeat the object of the order. There will always be dogs. Rather than see a dog ill-treated because its owners cannot afford to pay £5 for its licence, I agree with my right hon. Friend that some other means should be found on a national basis that would not rob or drain dry the Exchequer.

I must tell the Minister of State that there will be bitter resentment in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman said that not only would the £5 fee be imposed or inflicted on Northern Ireland—the tone of his voice is all important in this matter—but that he would not introduce similar legislation for the rest of the United Kingdom. If people in Northern Ireland were to listen tonight to "Today in Parliament" or tomorrow in "Yesterday in Parliament" and heard the Minister's tone of voice in saying so vehemently that similar legislation would not be introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom, they would ask "Why?" My right hon. Friend was right to say that there is a dog problem in Britain as well. If, as it appears, a different approach is made in Northern Ireland, resentment is bound to be caused.

I jocularly said earlier that we had civil rights marches in Northern Ireland for less reason. I remember those civil rights marches very well. In the late 1960s the people felt that they were being treated differently from other parts of the United Kingdom over the franchise and the allocation of houses. From a series of small items began the big demonstrations in Northern Ireland. I am prepared to admit that people took part in those demonstrations organised by the civil rights movement to exploit those legitimate grievances.

I do not know the extent of the problem in the rural areas of Northern Ireland. I am not aware of a problem in the city of Belfast. I say clearly to the Minister that the Government will not be able to enforce this order in the estates that I have mentioned. If an individual from a local authority, regardless of whether he is a dog warden and has a pass or authority, attempts to go into one of those estates, he will be a laughing stock. As I said, the bookmakers in Belfast are laying long odds on the first dog to be caught and even longer odds on the second. I do not believe that any dogs will be caught under this legislation.

9.13 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) when he asks "Why in Northern Ireland? Why not in the rest of the United Kingdom?" My hon. Friend the Minister said that there are special problems in Northern Ireland, but the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, "Walk down a pavement in London and see what you see". I have been to Northern Ireland on two or three occasions. I cannot ever recollect seeing as much filth and dirt on the pavements of Northern Ireland as we see in our own capital city. I shall not take up the hon. Gentleman's remarks about traffic wardens because I hope very much that the traffic wardens, in Northampton anyhow, are all good Conservatives.

Mr. Concannon

How many parking tickets has the hon. Gentleman had?

Mr. Marlow

I require notice of that question.

I am sorry that so few right hon. and hon. Members are present. This is a controversial measure and, as with most controversial measures, I believe that many of my colleagues, for very good reasons, like to keep their heads down.

I have a feeling that in politics one can easily make enemies but that it is difficult to make friends, and on this issue it is very easy indeed to make enemies. If one wants to do something to control dogs one must confront the serried ranks of an organisation known as Pro-Dogs. We talked earlier about threats made by Miss Ruth Hall to hon. Members if they took a particular course of action. I assure the House that the threats of Miss Hall are as a mild rebuke compared with the pre-emptive nuclear strike that would be offered by Pro-Dogs to any hon. Members who might cause offence in any way.

On the other hand, if the Government or hon. Members said that they were not prepared to do anything about dog nuisance, there are groups of young mums and elderly people who are quite properly concerned about the dog nuisance and who would feel that the Government were funking the issue. It is therefore a controversial measure and obviously one must be discreet and careful.

As I say, I welcome the measure in general, but why Northern Ireland alone? Why not clean up our own pavements, by which I mean the pavements of the rest of the United Kingdom? Why do we not protect elderly people on the mainland from perhaps being attacked, savaged or frightened by stray dogs? Are they no more at risk than people in Northern Ireland? Although the Minister denied it, in the way Governments do—they say it is for Northen Ireland only and will not come to the mainland, but Governments are bound to do that until they change their mind and bring another measure forward—is Northern Ireland in some way being used as a testing ground, a probing area, by the measure? If so, I would expect right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland to have some views on the subject.

Attitudes change. I remember years ago — I have never been a smoker and I do not like smoking—how, if one did not want people to smoke in one's house, one did not have ashtrays in evidence. If one did not want people to smoke in the cinema or theatre, or in a motor car, people would look as though there was something strange about one, as if one was odd or anti-social. Everybody seemed to smoke and expected everybody else to smoke. People who did not like smoke in their eyes were looked on as being strange.

It has until recently been the same with dogs. The dog is man's best friend, but in some areas dogs are becoming public enemy number one. The young mother who wants to take her child for a walk in the park, or the play area in the park, finds a filthy mess all over the place and must clean the child when she gets home. The dog is her public enemy number one. Think of the elderly person who, on going shopping, finds a strange dog romping around in the shopping areas and who is frightened, perhaps bowled over, by it. That is that person's public enemy number one.

Think what it must be like to be blind in central London with all the filth on our pavements. In the street, one does not know what one will walk in; and if one walks in it, think of the business of having to clean it off one's clothes and footwear, especially if one is blind. The dog has not had its day, but I hope that in Northern Ireland at least the filthy dog will have had its day. That is the dog nuisance —fouling pavements, parks and play areas where people want to play rugby, soccer or any other game.

We have heard about the harrying problem of livestock worrying and of sheep being attacked. If one sees what happens to a sheep that is savaged by a dog, or if one talks to someone who has seen it, it is a very disturbing experience indeed. The Minister spoke about the problem of injuries and said that 2,000 people in Northern Ireland were treated in hospital. If the rate is the same in the rest of the United Kingdom— I suspect that it is; if one contacts one's local hospital one finds that many injuries are caused by dogs—that represents 60,000 people. It means that the equivalent of 100 people each year in every constituency have been savaged by dogs to the extent that they must go to hospital for treatment. That is a large number of people. Deaths arise from road accidents caused by dogs. There may not be many of them, but they happen and we should be concerned about them.

More recently, a lot of research has been done on the very real problem of disease. I shall mention simply the problem of toxicara canis, a worm which a dog passes which a human, quite often a child, can pick up. The worm can migrate through the body. It can do damage to various systems within the body and, in particular, it can cause blindness. As a result of the work that has been done by Professor Woodruff recently at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it has been established that at least 50 people each year suffer partial loss of the sight of one eye as a result of this menace.

Most dogs and most dog owners are exemplary. Most dogs are treasured members of the family, well looked after and virtuous within society and perform a great service. My hon. Friend the Minister is proposing by this measure to raise a licence fee of £5 per annum in Northern Ireland. One has to say to the dog-owning public in Northern Ireland that that money will be well spent. It will be well spent on discouraging people from having dogs that they will not look after. It will cut back the number of stray dogs——

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The hon. Gentleman said just now "£5 per annum." There is nothing in the order which says that ii is to be £5 per annum. It is to be £5 for such period as may be prescribed. The prescribed period is not being written into the order, nor has it, so far as I know, been mentioned by the Government at any time during the debate. When regulations are made which prescribe that time, they will not, if we are still operating under the 1974 Act, come before the House.

Mr. Marlow

I stand corrected by the right hon. Gentleman. The licence at the moment, as I understand it, is an annual licence. I should have thought that most people would expect that the £5 licence would last for a year. When my hon. Friend replies to the debate, I have no doubt that he will put the right hon. Gentleman right about this.

I am pleased also that in this measure the owners of blind dogs will not have to pay a licence fee for their dogs and that people over 65, for many of whom a dog is valuable, a friend, and protection in the house, will have a rate half that that anyone else will pay.

I notice that farmers who do not bury the carcases of their livestock will be liable to a fine of £200. I wonder whether this is necessary, or is it just a mean quid pro quo so that the farmers might be got at as well as being helped? Any farmer looks after his livestock. No farmer wants to have dead livestock lying around, but sometimes it takes time dispose of it and it cannot always be done immediately.

I am very pleased to see that the order is enlisting public support, in that if there is a stray dog in the neighbourhood an ordinary member of the public will be enabled to take possession of that dog and within 24 hours call the police or the local authority to take it away.

I am very pleased to see that there are realistic penalties. The owner or the keeper of a dog that is not licensed will be liable to a fine of £200, which is a significant amount of money. I believe that on the mainland there are almost as many unlicensed dogs as there are licensed dogs. I am sure that this level of penalty will be a strong encouragement to the licensing of dogs in the future.

The fine for allowing a dog to stray can also be up to £200. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) suggested that it may be better to have a system of tattoo rather than a system of ear tag. One very good reason for a system of tattoo is that many people, when they no longer have use for a dog, put it in the back of a car, drive it out to the country and let it go. If they do that and do not want to be found out and do not want to be fined, all they will do is clip off the tag in the dog's ear and they will never be traced. Simply another stray dog will have to be taken into the system and dealt with. If the dog were tattooed, people who behaved in that particularly unpleasant and cruel manner would still be liable, would be found and could be fined.

I am pleased to see, too, that there is the possibility of on-the-spot fines, at the relatively low sum of £10, for dogs found fouling the pavements. There is a lot of dog nuisance. Members of the public can identify where a dog has committed an offence and has fouled a pavement, and they get in touch with the local authority, but such is the bureaucratic burden, the length of time it takes to get the matter to court and the reluctance of witnesses to come forward that almost inevitably nothing is done. Therefore, members of the public who would like to take a hand in discouraging this problem are discouraged from doing so. The ability of the dog warden to impose an on-the-spot fine will have an immediate and real impact on this very unpleasant problem of dogs fouling the pavements.

This is a positive measure and a very strong one. I ask my hon. Friend to speak to his right hon. and hon. Friends with a view to getting a similar measure implemented on the mainland as quickly as possible.

9.26 pm
Mr. Adam Butler

I should, perhaps, have declared my own interest before introducing this order. I think that the House knows, because I declare it, that I am a farmer and therefore have an interest from that point of view. I am not one who exhibits any pathological hatred of dogs. It has been suggested—it was not a personal attack—that there might have been some who drafted this operating from such an approach. I have almost lost count of the number of dogs which we have in our house from time to time, but at the moment it is reduced to three. I think that I can be described as a dog lover but a very responsible dog lover.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)—who I hope will rejoin us—may have some knowledge about the date of the next election which I do not. He started his remarks by saying that it was quite wrong for the Government to introduce this measure in the dying weeks of this Parliament. I have to say to him that this measure was introduced closer to the beginning of this Parliament than to the end, because it was in the early days of 1980 — over three years ago — that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, said that legislation would be introduced, and I think that he gave some general outline of it.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—who is, sadly, not here at the moment—made an important contribution to our debate. He said that this order was typical of the evils of direct rule, as he described it, implying that if there had been a Committee stage the order might have been in a very much better state than he claims it is. Let me remind him that this order has gone through a very lengthy consultative process indeed. I admit that when I first saw it I was apprehensive about it because it was introducing new powers; it was bringing into one part of the United Kingdom something that many people had indicated that they would not wish to see elsewhere.

I looked at the order very closely indeed. I have consulted widely, and my officials have consulted widely. As far as parliamentary scrutiny is concerned, we had the Northern Ireland Committee debate, which was extremely helpful and in which amendments were made. As far as consideration by the elected representatives of the Northern Ireland people as elected to the Assembly is concerned, they spent some few hours debating this matter. This is important, because they represent their constituents in the Assembly, just as hon. Members from Northern Ireland represent their constituents here.

I must say to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that they have been elected, as he has been elected—admittedly by proportional representation and not by the first-past-the-post system—and more recently than he has. He cannot, therefore, say that they are not representative of their constituents.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

They are not representative as we are, because we are representative in a House to which the Government are responsible. No one is responsible to them; and they are responsible for nothing.

Mr. Butler

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that they are just as representative. It is a question of what they can do once they reach that Assembly, compared with what the right hon. Gentleman, his hon. Friends and other Northern Ireland Members can do in this place. One cannot argue that they are not as representative of people's viewpoints. They are as capable as the right hon. Gentleman is of expressing a viewpoint about the constituents' interests that they represent. They did so and drew attention to some small points in the order of which they were critical. Perhaps some wished to amend some points that some wished to retain, as we have seen tonight, but generally they gave the draft order a good welcome.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Surely with all the consultative process the hon. Gentleman would not equate the Assembly with a parliamentary Committee in which elected Members can put forward amendments and have them tested in the House by vote.

Mr. Butler

I am a Member of the House. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is the preferable way to go about bringing forward legislation. Therefore, it would be preferable, other things being equal, that this should be done. As it is, we have a system arising out of direct rule and have to meet the circumstances as best we can. In consequence of the different approach to legislation, we have a very much longer and much more thorough consultative process outside Parliament to try to remedy the situation. However, there is an opportunity under the recent Assembly legislation for the Assembly to take on such a role, but that is a matter for debate on another day.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West amused us, got us interested, and then came to his serious points. I think that some of the dogs in Northern Ireland have a great deal more sense than one or two people who will not apparently ever engage in consultations in any way with somebody from another community. I do not believe that the dogs to which he referred stop at the boundaries of Ballymurphy or anywhere else. They trespass across the boundaries that their human owners sometimes will not move across. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that.

The hon. Gentleman came to the serious point about how the dogs would be treated in the pound. They will be looked after. They will be segregated individually. There are requirements in the order about care, the provision of veterinary care and so on.

This is a small but important point. One or two hon. Members referred to the number of days for which a dog could be impounded. The five-day limit is a minimum period before which it will be permissible for further action to be taken. Secondly, that was the period of time recommended by the working party on dogs. Thirdly, I believe that that time is long enough for any responsible owner to discover that his dog is missing. Even if it is a habitual strayer or one of the hon. Member for Belfast, West's dogs that is always on the prowl, within a day or two at the most he will realise that it has disappeared from the home and is not likely to come back, so he will get in touch with the pound. Therefore, the minimum period of five days is not wrong.

Four main points were raised in the debate. First, hon. Members asked why the legislation should not include Great Britain. As I made clear, I was repeating what had been said in the House previously by Ministers, namely, that there are no plans to introduce the legislation. One must be careful because there is already legislation applying here and the order brings the situation in Northern Ireland into line.

When people ask about this what they are really referring to is the imposition of a mandatory scheme of dog control and an increase in the licence fee. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) was debating with us, because she has campaigned for a long time towards this end. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made his position clear. If anybody came near to the description of someone having a pathological dislike of dogs, it might be him. I must leave that to be settled outside the Chamber between my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North.

The general position in Northern Ireland is radically different, whether we are talking about attacks on livestock, attacks on human beings or the general nuisance of the sort that I described. The difference was recognised by the independent working party.

As to the reason why the legislation should not be introduced in Great Britain, a significant number of voluntary schemes are operated by councils under the Local Government Act 1972. There are byelaws in respect of the fouling of pavements and the like operated by councils which have byelaw making powers, subject to approval by the Home Secretary. I would have thought that that was the right way to go about it in Great Britain; because the situation differs very much between one area and another.

In Northern Ireland we are talking about an area with a population comparable to a large county in England, with Belfast being comparable in size perhaps to Leicester. Whereas it might have been possible to introduce voluntary schemes, it is necessary in the circumstance of Northern Ireland that no one council should refuse to operate a scheme. Therefore, that is one reason for introducing a mandatory approach.

The second main point raised was about charging. Hon. Members have agreed that it is an excellent scheme, but they ask that the charge should not be put on dog owners. I should not like to suggest that since we are getting near election time there was any thought about effects on the electoral prospects. Nobody thinks that £5 for a dog licence will be immensely popular or vote winning, but surely that is not the point at issue. We are talking only of about 10p a week. As for food, a dog with the voracious appetite of the West Highland terrier of my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown would doubtless eat much more than most of his size, but we are talking about a minimum of 50p up to perhaps £2 a week for food. In that circumstance, I do not think that lop will have the effect that some hon. Members have suggested.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North reminded us, the £5 charge will have the important effect of deterring the impulse buyer and making people think twice about whether they really want a dog and are prepared to take the trouble that dog ownership assuredly requires. I should have thought that that would appeal especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Drake, who is concerned, as I hope that we all are, about the welfare of dogs. There is no question but that if one has to pay for something one is likely to take better care of it than if it costs little or nothing.

I certainly believe that the cost of the schemes should be shared, or perhaps eventually be borne entirely by the dog owner. In the first instance, it should certainly be shared between the dog owner and the ratepayer. It would be quite wrong to put the whole charge on the ratepayer in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. Patently, the beneficiary from dog ownership is the person who owns the dog. There is also a benefit to the community from the scheme in terms of cleaner streets, reduction of nuisance, and so on. To that extent, the whole community will benefit, but the owner of the dog benefits from ownership so it is not unreasonable that the cost should be shared, and perhaps eventually be borne entirely by the dog owner.

Will the charges have to go up? I do not know. What will be the size of the ratepayers' contribution? I do not know. In the first instance, it is for the local council to decide on the kind of scheme that it wishes to operate and the extent of the need in the area. It must decide whether to go in for some gold-plated operation with magnificent new pounds or whether to use the USPCA for the purposes of impounding, and so on. It is, therefore, very difficult to say how much of the initial cost will fall on the ratepayer, but if the operation is successful the cost should reduce in relative terms. The work that needs to be done should be completed in comparatively few years. Thereafter, one hopes, the situation that has led to the order will be under control and the work required to be done by council officers will be relatively limited.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister clarify the point that was raised earlier? Will the £5 be an annual fee?

Mr. Butler

I assure the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Paisley) and the right hon. Member for Down, South that it will be an annual fee and not be subject to change during the course of a year. That would clearly be iniquitous as it would be a 12-month licence.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

In that case, why does the order not say so?

Mr. Butler

I am looking for the article that covers this.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

It is article 6(3).

Mr. Butler

It might have been clearer to put it in the legislation, but if a Minister says from the Dispatch Box that it will be an annual licence I understand that that is sufficient. As dog licences and virtually all other licences run for one year, I hope that that is sufficient to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I assure the Minister that I am not at all impugning his veracity, his honour or anything else of that kind, but if it is intended to be an annual licence, as he assures us that it is, and if the burden of the licence is proportionate not only to the sum but to the period for which it is applicable, surely that is something that ought to have been put on the face of the order and not left to be prescribed by an instrument that will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny at all.

Mr. Butler

I had hoped that there was no reason for confusion on this issue. The term is not set out in the proposed order, but neither is the rate that will apply for the licence in, for example, 10 years' time. It is not unusual for these matters to be changed or to be prescribed in subordinate legislation. As one would expect, there will be an annual licence fee.

I accept that if the schemes are not operated effectively they will not do the job that is intended for them. However, we must consider the penalties that will apply and the licence fee itself, including the way in which it will operate to encourage greater responsibility. We have to judge whether the threat of penalties will be effective, and I believe that the maximum figures in the order will have a deterrent effect.

Will the officers of the councils be able to carry out their work? The hon. Member for Belfast, West repeated some of the remarks that he made in Committee. I think that I said to him in Committee that, if what he said was true, it was a matter for regret. He said that in certain areas of the Province it might be more difficult for the officers to operate the schemes. If that is so, I do not believe that it is an argument for not introducing legislation to cover the majority of the Province. Therefore, I see no reason why the operation of the scheme should fail merely because there is doubt about its effectiveness in one or two areas.

I agree with the comments that were made by a number of hon. Members about training. It must be self-evident that a properly trained force will do the job better than one that has received insufficient training. I have read the advice which has been set out by JACOPIS to which my hon. Friend the Member for Drake referred. I welcome the suggestion that JACOPIS should hold seminars in Northern Ireland and that use should be made of them. It seems self-evident that the scheme has to work if it is to be effective, and it is my judgment that the contents of the order, in so far as they affect the operation of the dog control schemes, will bring that about.

The last issue of general importance was that of attack and the definition, which includes apprehension by a person. The issue can be treated frivolously, but it is not a frivolous subject. We are concerned to stop or, as far as possible, greatly to reduce the number of attacks on people. I do not want to lay down whether a bite is an attack. Perhaps in some circumstances it is not. The injuries that are sustained by a few thousand people who appear in hospital for treatment every year may not have been attacks as defined in the order.

Nevertheless, it is certain that many people will have been attacked. The Government cannot tolerate that. That state of affairs must be brought to an end. Therefore, there must be clear definitions in the legislation. However clear the legislation is, there will always be some room for doubt. Perhaps in the light of experience there will be room for improvement in the wording. I was most impressed by the constructive criticism that the Government received on the Bill from the British Veterinary Association, a body that has the greatest reputation and should be listened to.

Reference has been made to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, which is part of the BVA. The Government are reminded in briefing from the BVA that the British Small Animal Veterinary Association is the largest specialist division of the BVA. The briefing states that because the BVA covers all the United Kingdom—it has a territorial division in the form of the Northern Ireland Veterinary Association—and because it draws on the experience of the Small Animal Veterinary Association, it is able to comment authoritatively on the draft. I accept that. That association raises questions that have been stated by several hon. Members in this debate. That factor encourages me to refer to the briefing that I have been supplied with. The BVA supports the general principle of the draft Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order and it wishes to see it approved. The BVA asks for monitoring of the application of articles 2(2) and 33, which deal with attack.

I have given an assurance, and I do so again, that the Government must see how the legislation works in practice. I am not prepared, as was suggested, to move on a step by step basis and not introduce one part of the order until the Government know how another part operates, because the measures hang together, especially in respect of the dog control systems. I am not prepared to make a commitment to come back to the House in a year's time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Drake suggested. Means are available to any hon. Member to question Ministers or to raise the matter on the Floor of the Chamber. The articles must be monitored to judge their effectiveness. Powers are available to the Northern Ireland Department that can be introduced by subordinate legislation. 1f the principal legislation needs changing in the light of experience, that can be done. I am glad that a body as prestigious as the BVA wishes to see the article approved. It has been said that we are moving into unknown territory. If that was a reference to the entire order, that is not correct because of its consolidation aspects. The Government are bringing into line the Northern Ireland legislation. If that is right, it serves to underline what I said about the dog control procedures.

I trust that, with those explanations and that final assurance, the House will approve this draft order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved That the draft Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 17th March, be approved.