HC Deb 10 June 1991 vol 192 cc644-99

Order for Second Reading read.

6.8 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Following considerable public concern about irresponsible dog ownership and increases in the numbers of reported attacks by dogs, the Government issued a consultation paper in June 1990 on the control of dogs. We proposed a series of measures to bring about the safer control of dogs, and powers to penalise the irresponsible owner. The response to the consultation paper showed an encouraging measure of support for such action.

During the past few weeks, a number of horrific attacks by dogs on adults and young children had led to a clear demand for swift action by the Government to end this menance. The most recent attacks have been of a different degree of seriouness compared with the great majority of dog-biting incidents. The whole country was shocked at the injuries caused to Rucksana Khan by a pit bull terrier last month and the savage attacks by these dogs on other people, including Mr. Frank Tempest.

The public rightly look to the Government for protection against these dogs. The Dangerous Dogs Bill sets out our proposals for giving the public that protection. The aim of the Bill is a simple one—to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs. I am glad to say that in all the discussions I had last week with the different dog interests, the groups to which I spoke agreed that these dogs should be removed from our society.

Since I announced on 22 May my intention to introduce this legislation, some have suggested that the Government were over-reacting to the problem, that eliminating the fighting dogs is not the answer and that there is no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad owner. But there is clear evidence that these dogs are a danger and a menace and are a type to be set apart from other dogs. I understand that that view is shared by those on the Opposition Front Bench. That is why we acted to ban the import of these dogs and other fighting dogs last month and that is why we have introduced the Bill as an urgent response to this problem.

As I undertook in my statement, I have had extensive consultations with many of the organisations with an interest in dogs—the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Kennel Club, the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society and the Canine Defence League—as well as the veterninary organisations, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. All support the aim of this legislation, which clause 1 sets out, of eliminating dogs bred for fighting, such as the pit bull and the tosa, from our society.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Home Secretary mentioned a list of organisations with which he has been in contact, but he did not mention those that I raised with the Leader of the House—the insurance companies. A number of people who own fighting dogs and who have had them muzzled and neutered have made inquiries as to how they can get them insured. Many of them have come up with the answer that it will be extremely difficult to do that. Has the Home Secretary anything to tell us on that? Has he met the insurance companies, and is a list of those willing to insure such dogs available so that the public will know exactly what to do?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman made that point earlier. We have talked to various insurance interests. For example, the chief executive of the Association of British Insurers has commented on that and my officials have met the interests to discuss the possibility of insuring the dogs specifically referred to in clause 1 and for other wider matters.

The Association of Britsh Insurers has no information that policies are being refused. On the contrary, some companies are now coming forward with policies specifically geared to the new legislation.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

If the Secretary of State obtains a list of companies willing to insure such dogs, will he publish it? I have constituents who have had their dogs neutered and muzzled and have inquired about insurance with 12 companies, but insurance has been blatantly and blankly refused.

Mr. Baker

Of course I will do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. Insurance of dogs is a complicated matter. In many cases, the householder who is also a dog owner has the liability resulting from the dog covered by the household insurance policy. Insurance companies are now examining that in the light of the experience with pit bull terriers, but I shall do as the hon. Gentleman has asked.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the Home Secretary clarify one point? This is one of those strange parliamentary questions which seeks information.

Does the Bill contain, or will the Home Secretary propose, an order which will require owners of dogs of any category to take out third-party insurance? He told us about that in his statement, but I can find no reference to it in the Bill.

Mr. Baker

I shall deal with that shortly when I consider clause 1. I shall answer the point when I come to it.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is it not a fair point that, if an insurance company is not prepared to take the risk of insuring a particular dog, the public should not be subjected to the risks of that dog?

Mr. Baker

I shall discuss that with the insurers and the animal welfare organisations that are considering proposals that might cover particular breeds. As I shall explain in a moment, there is a necessity to insure the dogs referred to in clause 1.

Clause 1 spells out the criminal offence which will apply to these dogs and to any other fighting dogs which I may specify by order. The pit bull is today's problem. It is important that I should have the power to take action against any new fighting breeds which may emerge in the future. Clause 1(c) gives me that power. It also gives me the power, in effect, to refine the definition of any fighting dog, including the pit bull, by order. During the debate on the timetable motion it was said that no one underestimates the difficulties of defining in law what is in fact a cross-breed dog. Many experts in this and other countries are considering the point and perhaps in time a more precise and scientific definition may emerge. In the meantime, the Bill's expression any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier is one that is understandable to the lawyer and the layman.

Clause 1 sets out the criminal offences which will apply to these dogs. It covers their breeding; selling or exchanging them; giving them away; advertising them; abandoning them; or letting them stray. I expect these offences to become law as soon as the Bill is enacted. That is why it was necessary to put the Bill on to the statute book so quickly. From that moment, it will also be a criminal offence to have a pit bull terrier or a tosa in public without a muzzle and a lead. This is an important step which will provide protection to the public immediately the Bill becomes law. There are stiff penalties for these offences—a maximum of six months' imprisonment and a maximum fine of £2,000, which will rise to a maximum of £5,000 when the Criminal Justice Bill, which increases fine levels, becomes law.

Clause 1(3) also creates the offence of owning or keeping a prohibited dog. I intend to bring in this offence, after the other criminal offences in the Bill, at the end of November. It means that there will be a period of some three to four months before owning one of these dogs becomes an offence, when the owner can decide to do one of two things.

First, the owner can decide to have his dog put down voluntarily, and the Government will provide an incentive for owners to do so. Clause 1(3) allows me to make by order a scheme to pay owners who want the dogs put down a sum by way of compensation for the dog and to contribute to some of the cost of its being put down. I am consulting the veterinary profession and animal welfare organisations about the precise level of the sum to be paid to each owner. The cost of putting down a dog varies from one part of the country to another. Many claim that pit bulls are valuable dogs. But much of that value is based on their fighting prowess, or, in the grim euphemisms which dog fighters use, their "gameness" or "heroic qualities". It would be quite wrong for the sum which I shall make available to take this sort of factor into account. Dog fighting is an illegal and deplorable act, condemned by all those with a true interest in animals.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will the Secretary of State explain how he intends to prove ownership of a dog?

Mr. Baker

I shall come to that point. I am now dealing specifically with clause 1, which, as I shall explain, deals with how a dog will obtain a certificate of exemption and the owner will be identified. I ask hon. Members to wait and all will be revealed.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Home Secretary tell us when he expects to produce the orders which are specifically referred to in clause 1, and in other clauses too? Are the orders already in draft form, or does the Secretary of State have to finish consultations? When does he expect them to be ready?

Mr. Baker

I expect to publish them shortly. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the point during the debate on the timetable motion. I shall specify what the orders will contain, and they will be ready for consultation while the Bill is in its passage through the House and before it reaches another place.

Before I answer my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson), I shall deal with compensation. The best advice that we have suggests that the intrinsic value of the pit bull terrier is about £25. The sum available to cover compensation and destruction will therefore probably be in the region of £50. It will be payable by the Home Office on production of a certificate from a veterinary surgeon stating that the dog is a pit bull terrier and has been put down. The precise details of the scheme will be set out in an order made under clause 1(3).

I hope that the responsible owners of those fighting dogs will look at the pictures and the descriptions of what they can do, will perhaps think of their own and other people's children as they do so, and will decide that the risk is too great—that these dogs have no place in the family home. If they do that before the end of November, they need have no fear of prosecution. They can claim compensation. They can then seek the advice of a vet, the RSPCA or the Kennel Club about breeds of dog that make safe and friendly family pets, dogs that will not maim and kill.

When I announced to the House on 22 May that I would introduce urgent legislation I said that I would also be considering the possibility of exemptions from the prohibition on ownership of these dogs. The desirability of exemptions was stressed by the animal welfare groups who came to see me. The order-making power in clause 1(5) enables me to set up a scheme for exemptions, about which the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) asked.

The exemption scheme will be tightly drawn and tough. I am discussing the practical details with the police, the veterinary bodies and the animal welfare organisations. Before I make the order under clause 1(5), I shall issue it in draft form for consultation.

Under the scheme, the person who wishes to retain his dog will have to do the following. He will have to obtain a form from the police and provide them with his name and address. He will then have to have his dog, male or female, neutered by a veterinary surgeon. Neutering is of course a means of ensuring that the breed cannot continue. The veterinary surgeon will also mark the dog.

The owner will also have to arrange for the dog to be covered by third-party insurance. He will then have to provide proof of insurance and proof of neutering in order to obtain a certificate of exemption to keep the dog. There will need to be a central index of exempted dogs to which the police or dog wardens will have access to check the details of any dog which they seize or which is the subject of a complaint. We shall be putting the task of running this scheme out to tender very shortly. Whoever is appointed will need to work closely with the police, the Home Office and the other agencies involved.

The owner who wishes to exempt his dog will have to meet the full cost of doing so himself. The cost of neutering by a vet varies according to the sex of the dog. Spaying a bitch can cost in the region of £100.

The cost of insurance is a matter for the owner to work out with his insurance company, but will add to the cost. I accept the point of the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay). The operating costs of the scheme, which would include a central index of exempted dogs, will be fully recoverable through the fee to he charged for the certificate of exemption. The fee cannot he fully determined until the final details are settled.

The exemption scheme contains a tough and costly set of requirements for the owner of such dogs to meet. A breach of any of the requirements will mean that the dog is no longer exempted and the owner commits the offence of possession in clause 1(3)—an offence as from 30 November. I must emphasise that, as soon as the Bill is enacted, the owner of the dog must keep it muzzled and on a lead in public.

At the end of November, the offence of possessing, or having custody of a prohibited dog will come into force.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm from his discussions with the Kennel Club—probably the greatest authority on the handling of dogs in the country—that it has approved the exemption scheme? My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is against any form of dog registration, but, in a sense, the exemption scheme calls for a scheme of dog registration. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the club has been consulted on this and is happy with the scheme?

Mr. Baker

I can confirm that the Kennel Club has made it clear in discussions with me that it is against any form of general dog registration. However, it is one of the groups that wants to consider operating the exemption scheme to produce certificates of exemption. I am glad to tell the House that two other organisations concerned with animal welfare also want to operate the scheme. Some companies have also expressed an interest. We shall consider which one to choose when we go out to tender. I confirm exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has said.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I apologise for missing the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He has just said that to have a dog or a bitch neutered or spayed will be a costly procedure. I understand that the issue of compensation was discussed earlier, but I believe that it is unfair that those responsible owners—despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) may think about people who own pit bull terriers, there are some responsible owners—who might be unable to afford the process will be caught by the Bill. Will there be some provision for owners to get money from the Government, even if they do not take compensation? They should have some money from the Government to do what the Government are requiring them to do.

Mr. Baker

Clause 1(3) makes it illegal to own such a dog from 30 November unless certain conditions are fulfilled. When the Government change the law to make illegal what is now legal, it is reasonable to compensate those people who offer to have their dogs put down. We do not believe that it is right to compensate those who wish to keep their dogs and to neuter them. I have been in discussion with various animal welfare lobbies and one in particular has said that it is prepared to give assistance to owners who want their dogs to be neutered. However I do not believe that it is right in principle for Government money to be used in that way.

Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)

Can my right hon. Friend describe any difficulties he anticipates in defining such dogs, particularly where cross-breeding may have taken place?

Mr. Baker

One cannot disguise that that is a problem. When I came to the Home Office I was told that it would be difficult to provide such definitions, but I have studied what other legislatures have done. Holland, for example, is now trying to define such breeds much more precisely. The Dutch Government are taking action similar to that which we are proposing.

I have always recognised that the identification of pit bull terriers might be difficult, particularly because of their possible confusion with the brindle Staffordshire terrier. As a result of consultation with interested parties we are producing guidance for the use of customs, the police and dog wardens. I shall issue that guidance as soon as the Bill has been enacted. We are receiving useful help from the Kennel Club and British Veterinary Association on this matter.

Mr. Marlow

My right hon. Friend said that he is making arrangements for those dogs that will be exempted from the ban. Will those arrangements include some vetting of the premises in which those dogs are kept?

Mr. Baker

I shall answer that when I come to clause 3, which bears upon that matter.

At the end of November the offence of possessing or having custody of a prohibited dog will come into force. Those who have not voluntarily had their dogs put down or successfully had them exempted at that stage will face a term of imprisonment of up to six months and a maximum fine of £2,000, which will rise to £5,000 when the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law. The important point about this offence, in common with any of the other clause 1 offences—it also relates to the question behind the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson)—is that the onus will be on the accused to prove that his dog is not a pit bull terrier.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson

I wish that my right hon. Friend had shown me how ownership was to be proved. It appears that exemption is a form of negative registration, but what if the man says that he does not own the dog? How does the Secretary of State intend to proceed against him?

Mr. Baker

Identifying and matching an owner to such dogs has never been a problem in the past. Let us say that a complaint is made in January next year about someone keeping a pit bull terrier. That complaint must be investigated either by a dog warden or a member of the police force. Such investigations already take place because the police are frequently called to a house to look at a dog. Someone in that house is either the keeper or the owner of that dog and is responsible for it. From the end of November such possession will be an offence and action will be taken against the owner of that dog as identified in the house at that time.

The conditions of clause 1 mean that the identification of the owner is simple and straightforward. Under clause 1 the owner must go to a police station, register his name and address and get a form. He will then have to send it off and must follow through the various processes that I have outlined.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary is in some difficulty in trying to explain how he will deal with the concept of ownership. He can save himself the trouble, because the Bill refers not to ownership, but to possession. The right hon. Gentleman's lawyers will tell him that those are two very different matters, and possession is well covered by case law. He is defending himself against a false point.

Mr. Baker

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's help, such as it is. I am aware that the Bill covers not only ownership, but the keepers. That is important, because there could be a dispute in a household about whether someone was the owner or the keeper.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

In view of the possibility of such animals being moved, has there been any consultation with the authorities in the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Baker

I admit that I have not had any consultations with the Isle of Man. Now that the point has been drawn to may attention, I shall consider it. All that I know about the Republic of Ireland is that it has had a dog registration scheme for three or four years, but only about 30 per cent. of dogs are registered. There may be many reasons for that, but I shall not speculate. Following my statement on 22 May, I was informed that many pit bull owners had moved their dogs to the Republic of Ireland, which led that country to introduce an import ban.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Can my right hon. Friend clarify what will be involved in the registration of the names of owners with the police? Is it simply a matter of collecting a form from a police station, or will the police station have to keep a list of owners?

Mr. Baker

It will be both. A form will have to be collected and the police station will have to keep a list of owners and dogs. After that, it will be passed to an agency to deal with the bureaucracy—perhaps an agency that has already been mentioned, or any other that decides to tender.

An essential part of the Bill is the distinction that it draws between dogs bred for fighting, such as the pit bull and the tosa—that comes under clause 1—and other dogs that might be dangerous if not properly controlled. During exchanges following my statement on 22 May, it was claimed that the proposals did not go far enough and that we should ban rottweilers, dobermans and other dogs that have the potential to be dangeous—

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Baker

Indeed. I have considered the matter carefully, in consultation with the veterinary bodies, the RSPCA, the Kennel Club and other organisations. I have concluded that there is not a case for a ban on the ownership of types or breeds of dogs, other than those covered by clause 1.

However, there is no doubt that large and powerful dogs frighten members of the public when they encounter them on the streets or in our parks—and some of them can cause serious injuries. There is some evidence that responsible dog lovers recognise that and are moving away from owning certain dangerous breeds. It is significant that the number of new registrations of rottweilers with the Kennel Club fell by more than two thirds between 1989 and 1990. That is a welcome trend.

It is vital that those who own such types of dogs and others are made more responsible for the way in which they are controlled. The Bill recognises the strength of that point in the criminal offence that it sets out in clause 3(1). That makes it an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place, together with an aggravated offence—that is, if the dog actually attacks somebody—in cases where injury is caused to a person. "Public place" is defined in clause 8(2), and "dangerously out of control" in clause 8(4). The penalty for the offence is imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of up to £5,000. The penalty for an aggravated offence—a dog that is dangerously out of control that savages or bites somebody—is two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the definition in clause 8(2). Does it include the public parts of tower blocks and maisonettes, which are not in themselves public places but are shared by the residents?

Mr. Baker

We shall be dealing with amendments that relate to that specific point. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that the law is complicated on the definition of a public place. I have some sympathy with the spirit of the amendments, as I shall explain later.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

My right hon. Friend knows that I am concerned about the scope of clause 8(4), which states: For the purposes of this Act a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will cause injury to any person, whether or not it actually does so. If a pet dog ran into the street and a cyclist swerved, there might be some reasonable apprehension that that cyclist might be injured. I do not believe that it is the intention of the Bill to capture such dogs in its scope. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would review the clause and ensure that it does not do so.

Mr. Baker

There is a difference between a dog that causes injury to a person by its bite and a dog that causes a traffic accident in which someone is injured. Many such dogs are strays. In the first case, there is a link between the owner, who did not exercise control, and the dog that caused the injury. In the second case, it is not the dog that causes the injury, but the driver of a car because of the resulting accident. It is therefore unlikely that the aggravated offence would be applicable. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the matter, and I shall write to him to explain it in greater detail.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is already a rule—although seldom applied—that requires all dogs, of any type, to bear owner identification? If there is such a rule—I do not believe that it is appreciated outside this House—can my right hon. Friend suggest how it can be tightened? That is crucial to this important clause.

Mr. Baker

There is indeed a requirement in law for dogs to be tagged. I understand that the law came into operation in March this year and that it is the duty of local authorities to enforce it.

The point that I was making about clause 3 is that it is important because it applies to all dogs. It does not deal only with the fighting dogs under clause 1, nor those covered by clause 2. Clause 3 relates to the offence of a dog being dangerously out of control in a public place. That offence, with its tough penalties, will be a powerful means of ensuring that the owners of all dogs, whatever the type, take proper steps to ensure that they are kept properly under control. When my predecessor put that proposal in our consultation paper a year ago, there was a considerable measure of support for it from the various interested groups and from the general public. That is why we have included it in the Bill. The measure will apply to any dog and its owner. I recognise that if, in future, a particular breed of dog is responsible for a number of serious incidents, to the point where it represents a serious danger to the public, the House may call for all dogs of that breed to be subject to special restrictions.

That brings me to clause 2, which provides a reserve power to impose restrictions in those circumstances. It will enable the Home Secretary to apply the Bill's new criminal offences of failing to muzzle and have on a lead, and of abandoning or letting stray, to be applied by order to named types of dog—that is, a complete breed.

Subjecting any of the recognised breeds of dogs to permanent muzzling in public, and making it a specific offence to abandon a dog of such a breed, would be a very serious step. Clause 2 therefore imposes upon the Home Secretary an obligation to consult widely representatives of the veterinary profession, animal welfare organisations and bodies with a special knowledge of dogs before making such an order. Before such an order is implemented, it must be approved by both Houses of Parliament—that is, by the positive procedure. That is an important power to have in reserve if the provisions in the Bill aimed at encouraging responsible ownership and control of dogs prove not to be sufficient. However, I am not convinced that, at present, there is a case for singling out any types of dogs, other than those specified in clause 1, for action that would apply to all dogs of that type.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I understand the Minister's difficulty with the definition of a particular kind of dog, but with regard to the behaviour of the dog and the control that the owner has over it, would a pack of dogs invading somebody's garden and killing his pets be unacceptable behaviour? Would the dog be considered to be out of control and the owner liable under the Bill?

Mr. Baker

May I consider that question and reply to the hon. Gentleman later in the debate? I should have thought that an offence would have been committed.

It is clearly right for members of the public who are fearful for their safety because of the threat presented by a particular dog to be able to do something about it. Clause 3(4) is an important new change and provides them with the means of doing so. It strengthens the power in the Dogs Act 1871 and enables anyone who considers that a dog is dangerous and is not kept under proper control to apply to the court for an order to require its owner to keep it under control.

The Bill makes two important changes to the existing power. First, it enables the court to make an order, whether or not a dog that is thought to be dangerous has caused injury to a person. It is important to appreciate that a court order can be made agaainst a dog that has not necessarily been savage or attacked someone. Secondly, it enables the court to specify particular measures by which the dog should be controlled—that answers an earlier question. The measures named in 3(4)(b) are muzzling, keeping on a lead and excluding the dog from specified places. However, the court would have the power to specify other measures if it was thought necessary.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

From what my right hon. Friend says, I understand that he is referring to a magistrates court. If so, is there not a problem, in that that is not a court of record, and what might be specified in one magistrates court would not necessarily be followed in another? Can he at least ask the Lord Chancellor to think about the matter and give guidance to the Magistrates Association?

Mr. Baker

That suggestion makes a good deal of sense. As Home Secretary, I would not be the right person to give guidance on that; it would fall to the Lord Chancellor. I hope that a consistency of practice will develop fairly quickly, but I take my hon. Friend's point.

This is an important new power. It would mean that the person whose next-door neighbour's dog regularly jumps over the fence and creates a danger would be able to seek to have it restrained so that it did not do so. It would also mean that the postman who knew that the dog at, say, No. 53 had a tendency to attack had a means of forcing the owner to stop it attacking him by controlling it.

The refinement and extension of the power in the Dogs Act 1871, as set out in clause 3(4), were warmly welcomed last year when we issued the consultation paper on the control of dogs. I hope that it will be widely used by those whose lives are made a misery by irresponsible owners whose dogs are a danger because they are not properly controlled.

Mr. Marlow

If a postman is walking up the garden path in private premises in somebody's front garden, how can the courts require that person on private premises to stop that dog putting the postman at risk?

If a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place, an offence is committed; if a dog runs in front of a car, is it not dangerously out of control in a public place?

Mr. Baker

On my hon. Friend's first point about the postman, the court would have the power, under clause 3(4), to require that the dog at No. 53 that was the subject of the complaint should not be allowed in the front garden. The court could specify that the dog should be allowed only in the back yard, which had a fence round it. It could specify that degree of detail. That is why I emphasise the importance of this new power.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

On the question of dogs not designated under clause 2, will the Secretary of State say how he proposes to exercise continuing scrutiny of some of the dogs mentioned in clause 1 that are cross-bred abroad for importation?

Mr. Baker

The difficulty with defining the pit bull terrier is that it is a cross-breed which has been cross-bred for nearly 150 years, and which has drawn from various strains a degree of viciousness and strength, and a determination to fight and to kill. Other cross-breeds may be bred in the future. That is why the Home Secretary has been given powers under clause 1 to add other known dogs, or to redefine the cross-breeds. Flexibility is required. It is pointless to include all cross-breeds in the Bill, because various animal welfare interests are still unclear about the definitions. They are being clarified all the time; I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

Let me turn to the other provisions of the Bill. Clause 4 sets out powers for the courts to put down the dogs of those convicted of criminal offences under the Bill, and to order those convicted to be disqualified from having further custody of a dog. One amendment would extend that from one year to five years. In the case of the aggravated offence under clause 3 and the criminal offences where a fighting dog is involved, the court is required to order that the dog be put down. The clause also enables the owner of the dog, or the person convicted of the criminal offence, to appeal against the destruction of the dog.

Mr. Rathbone

Further to my previous question—it is pertinent to this clause—if the dog is not identified by the tag that is required under the Bill, will the courts have the absolute right, without further question, to have that dog put down?

Mr. Baker

That happens now if the dog is a stray and is not identifiable. The dog is caught and is usually put down, either by a dog warden or by one of the various agencies that deal with such matters. It may be taken to a home whose rules require that a dog is never put down. It will be no different in the future.

Clause 4 gives the court the power to require that the dog is handed over to be put down, and to reclaim the costs of destruction and the costs of detaining the dog from the offender. If those costs are not paid, they can be recovered as a civil debt.

The court has the power to disqualify anyone convicted of any of the offences in the Bill from having custody of a dog for any period that it thinks fit. A person disqualified from having a dog can apply after one year—one amendment relates to that—to have the disqualification lifted. Clause 4(7) sets out the criteria that the court must have in mind in deciding whether to grant or refuse the application. The court may order the applicant to pay all or any part of the costs of the application. Clause 4(8) makes it an offence to have a dog while disqualified from doing so, or to fail to hand a dog over for destruction.

Clause 5 gives a police constable or dog warden the power to seize a fighting dog that has no muzzle or is not being kept on a lead. From the end of July, when the Bill is enacted, that will be an offence. It also gives the power to seize a fighting dog after possession becomes an offence and other dogs covered by other parts of the Bill. Clause 5(2) gives powers to a magistrate, following evidence that an offence under the Bill is being committed, to issue a warrant authorising the police to enter premises, using force if necessary to search them and to seize any dog or other evidence of the offence. Clause 5(4) gives powers for a dog that has been seized to be destroyed when no prosecution is being brought under the Bill, including when the owner of the dog cannot be traced. That is the very point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) referred.

Clause 7 provides for the costs of any compensation scheme and other costs to be defrayed out of money provided by Parliament. Clause 8 sets out various definitions in the Bill and provides for the Bill, when enacted, to be brought into force in stages.

Madam Deputy Speaker—Mr. Deputy Speaker; I apologise. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be neither neutered nor muzzled. The Bill sets out specific measures to tackle problems posed by fighting and other dangerous dogs. Its main proposals have been the subject of extensive consultation with various representative bodies. They have recognised and supported the need for emergency measures to tackle the dangers posed to the public by fighting dogs.

Some of those organisations and some hon. Members would, I know, like to use the Bill for other purposes related to dogs, their welfare and their ownership. There will be an opportunity to debate dog registration when we discuss the new clause in the name of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)—which, together with another new clause, will be debated later this evening.

The Government's views on dog registration are clear. I do not consider that a full-scale registration system, covering some 7 million dogs, recording the ownership of every chihuahua and poodle in the country, would have made the slightest difference to the spate of attacks by pit bull terriers that we have witnessed recently. The ownership of the pit bull terriers that were responsible for the most recent attacks was quickly established: there was no question who owned them. The cost of a registration scheme would be considerable. The RSPCA envisaged a cost of £20 million for setting up and administering it. The cost of a dog warden service would add a further £22 million, according to costing prepared for the RSPCA by the London School of Economics in 1989.

Others will have the opportunity to present their views during the Bill's passage. I hope, however, that hon. Members will not let any differences of view that may exist about dog registration prevent them from giving wholehearted support to other measures in the Bill.

The provisions contained in this public protection Bill are tough and specific. Their aim is to deal quickly and effectively with a serious danger. I believe that an overwhelming majority of the public want this preventive measure, which is intended to avoid a repetition of the attacks that we have witnessed recently, to pass quickly into law. I urge all hon. Members to support it and to ensure that that happens.

6.50 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Opposition support the Bill; there is no question of our voting against it tonight. We believe that the possession of the listed species—the pit bull terriers and the tosas—should be prohibited, and we shall vote for the Bill not least because such a prohibition appears in it.

We also believe, however, that that objective cannot be achieved overnight. That is why, when the Home Secretary made his statement on 26 May, I spoke of eventual elimination. We consider the method by which the Government propose to proceed towards that end—eventual elimination and eventual prohibition—to be about right. We approve of giving people the chance to have a restricted dog put down with compensation, the possibility of certain limited exceptions, and the elimination or obligatory destruction of any dogs in the restricted categories that do not meet the exemption conditions.

Given that the Home Secretary is apparently no longer listening, I shall be grateful for confirmation from the Minister of State that the British Veterinary Association has agreed to co-operate in the destruction of prohibited species that are not covered by the exemption provision. I understand that when there was talk of wholesale, immediate destruction, the association was reluctant—perhaps, indeed, positively refused—to co-operate. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is now prepared to do the work that is essential to the Bill's operation.

The Opposition also believe in the need for powers that could be used to protect the public against other dangerous species—and, indeed, could be applied to ensure the proper control of individual dogs that were known to be a threat to public safety. On 22 May, I said that other breeds and species should not be eliminated from the country altogether, but should perhaps be subject to a less drastic form of control. Because less drastic but none the less necessary provisions to that effect now appear in clauses 2 and 3, we have another reason to vote for the Bill—or, at least, to support it, if there is no Division.

The Bill has much more in common with proposals advanced by the Opposition on 22 May than with the prepared statement made at the same time by the Home Secretary. That initial statement said nothing about what I had mentioned on that date—action against some breeds which, although they were occasionally dangerous, it would be wrong to prohibit altogether. Only in a supplementary answer to a question did the Home Secretary contemplate making it a criminal offence to own a dog that became dangerously out of control in public.

It would be churlish for us to vote against a Bill which contains many of the proposals that we have advocated for much longer than the Government have supported them. Virtually all the Bill's proposals could have become law a year ago if the Government had supported the Opposition's amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill. The Bill is, as far as it goes, a move in the right direction, and one what we have long advocated.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I note from the Order Paper that the right hon. Gentleman wishes the rottweiler to be included in the category of fighting dogs. What consultation or discussion has he engaged in? Has he discussed with the veterinary organisations their willingness to deal with that breed, as he is asking the Government about their role in dealing with the breeds mentioned in the Bill?

Mr. Hattersley

It is extremely unlikely—probably impossible—that the Opposition will divide the House on that amendment. It is essentially a probing amendment.

The Home Secretary has told us about his vast and continuing consultations. As far as I can see, the only people whom he has not consulted are the other parties in the House, the only way in which we can engage in something approaching consultation is to table amendments that force him to talk to politicians in the way in which he talks to dog organisations. The rottweiler amendment is intended to obtain his opinion first hand; and, although I do not believe for a minute that we shall press it to a Division, I feel that we are entirely entitled to be told what he might have had the courtesy to tell us earlier—why he has come to his conclusions.

As I have said, the Opposition support the Bill—although perhaps not quite so enthusiastically as the Home Secretary, who scaled new heights of self-congratulation in issuing a statement headed: Home Secretary Welcomes Dogs Bill". I know that the Government are riddled with divisions and disagreements, but the idea that a Secretary of State should have to announce that he is in favour of a Bill that carries his name surely takes the need to demonstrate unity to a new extreme.

Although I cannot welcome the Bill with the same glee that the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated, I nevertheless give it my backing. The Opposition feel, however, that it suffers from a number of damaging omissions. I wish to deal with three of them, and to pursue questions that the Home Secretary has answered only in part and not wholly to my satisfaction.

I want legislation to ensure that dogs—not only the classified species, but those described as "Other … dangerous dogs" and those that may be covered by clause 3—are kept in safe conditions. The Home Secretary has told us that, because of clause 3(4), a judge may insist that a dog be kept on a lead, specify muzzling, or introduce other qualifications. Surely, however, some breeds are so potentially lethal that they should in general be treated like firearms. It is an offence to have a firearm in a public place if it may damage a member of the public, and we still insist that such a firearm is kept where it is not likely to go astray and, in particular, cannot be stolen. Why did the Government not wish to include in the Bill a specific provision for the general safe-keeping of dogs in certain categories?

There seem to be no proposals for obligatory third party insurance of all dogs classified as "Other specially dangerous dogs". I take the Home Secretary's point that, when an exception order is made for the two categories to be destroyed, that order may require the dog's owner to keep it in a safe place, as specified by the Home Secretary or his representative. The Bill, however, concedes the existence of "Other specially dangerous dogs". Surely a condition of their ownership or possession should be the possession of third party insurance, which would in some way compensate other people who will surely be attacked and injured.

Mr. Tony Banks

I agree with my right hon. Friend, but can he not push this a little further? Surely compulsory third party insurance for all breeds is highly desirable by means of a dog registration scheme. It need not be a dangerous dog which runs out into the street and causes an accident, following which no one can obtain any compensation.

Mr. Hattersley

I am certainly in favour of the Home Secretary having the power to insist that some groups of dogs, and perhaps all dogs, should be covered by third party insurance. I agree with my hon. Friend that, when we speak of dogs being out of control in a public place, we are referring not only to those that leap on passers by and savage them. I cite an example given by someone putting the contrary point of view—the dog that runs into the road and under a motor cycle, and is potentially the cause of a fatal accident. In my view, all such risks should be covered by insurance.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is not the Government's proposal like saying to motor car owners that they must have third party insurance if they own an MG, but not if they own a Lada, on the curious assumption that only the MG can be involved in an accident? Is it not the case that most householders effectively have third party insurance in respect of their dogs, as part of their household insurance, and that it is only a case of ensuring that every dog owner has household insurance, or something in its place?

Mr. Hattersley

My understanding, after speaking to insurance companies last week, is that most householders enjoy such coverage but that some do not—and that in many policies the condition is dubious. I believe that that dubiety should be removed, and that such insurance should invariably exist in the case of dog owners.

My hon. Friend's intervention leads me to the Bill's most serious omission—the Home Secretary's failure to introduce a general registration scheme. The introduction of such a scheme is supported by almost all public bodies concerned with dog ownership.

Mr. Marlow

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene?

Mr. Hattersley

I will first give a list of the people who agree with me. The hon. Gentleman may then like to add his name. I refer to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports, the British Veterinary Association, the Canine Defence League, the National Farmers Union and the Police Federation.

Mr. Marlow

On 26 October 1983, when the House divided on a proposal to introduce registration, 59 Labour Members voted in favour, but the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), unaccountably, voted against. Why has he changed his mind?

Mr. Hattersley

If I did as the hon. Gentleman claims, I did so in error—by which I mean that it was an error of judgment. The hon. Gentleman ought to rejoice at a sinner come late to repentance. When I say that I voted in error, I do not mean that I went into the wrong Lobby—I mean that I made an error of judgment, a failure much greater than the geograhical mistake of walking in the wrong direction. I see this evening as an opportunity to correct my mistake. I hope that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), who may similarly have made mistakes of judgment, will follow my good example. As I said, a sinner come late to repentance is much to be applauded.

A registration scheme is essential in pursuit of the objective that the Home Secretary claims to share—that of encouraging responsible dog ownership. During the right hon. Gentleman's various statements on the control of dangerous dogs, he said time and again that legal action must relate to owners, not to dogs. We can all agree with that, since there has been no prosecution of an animal in Europe since the consistory courts in France in the 16th century. However, statements of the obvious are not an adequate substitute for action.

The overwhelming advantage of registration is that it focuses the minds of dog owners on their responsibilities, and could in specific cases be used to ensure that those obligations are observed. It would certainly help to control dangerous dogs and to eliminate the species that the Home Secretary rightly seeks to proscribe. Despite the right hon. Gentleman's earlier opposition, he has conceded the principle of a register for pit bull terriers and tosas which are, or may be, exempted from clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 5, with all its references to schemes and the payment of charges, manages with some difficulty and ingenuity to avoid the word "register". Nevertheless, a register is there, and a register for those limited categories there will be. The principle having been conceded, the Home Secretary should complete his U-turn by agreeing that registration ought to apply to every type of dog.

Without a register, it may be impossible to make some of the Home Secretary's other proposals work. As well as protecting the general public, a register would provide substantial protection—this is important in creating the right climate of responsible ownership—for the thousands of dogs that are bought each year in this country and then casually discarded after a few weeks of neglect. Registration might not prevent irresponsible people from giving puppies away without considering the quality of the homes to which they go, but it would prevent kennels and pet shops from selling dogs to people without the new owners being reminded of their duties of ownership in being obliged to licence the animal that they have bought.

It is absurd for the Government not to allow a free vote. I repeat the undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) earlier this afternoon—that if the Government will change their mind even at this late stage, we will certainly reciprocate and allow a free vote on this side of the House. A dog registration scheme ought not to be the subject of party controversy. One sign of a Government who have lost their way, their nerve, and their identity, is their readiness to identify as great ideological issues questions that more rational people do not believe have anything to do with party controversy and ideology. The Government simply make themselves look ridiculous by treating the vote on registration as though it were a vote of confidence in the whole Administration.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary shouts, "Rubbish." That enables me to make, with some pleasure, the point that the way in which he has dealt with the whole problem has been nothing short of risible. Day by day, he has not so much vacillated as veered crazily from one extreme to another.

Mr. Andrew Bowden

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point that dog registration should be the subject of a free vote. The Government have imposed a three-line Whip on my right hon. and hon. Friends. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Labour Members will have a free vote?

Mr. Hattersley

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will have a free vote if Conservative Members are allowed a free vote. If the Home Secretary well get up and agree that this is not a matter of party controversy, I will say, "Bravo!" and respond in kind, but the Government cannot operate one rule and expect us to operate another. I repeat my offer: if the Home Secretary will be sensible, we shall gladly respond to his offer. As I see no movement in that direction, the usual—and very often sterile—rules of the House must be applied.

The Home Secretary's record emphasises one of the principle problems with the Bill. It is inadequate because the Home Secretary has sought not to solve a problem but to deal with newspaper headlines over a very limited period. On Sunday, 19 May, when the right hon. Gentleman appeared with David Frost on "Frost on Sunday", he dismissed out of hand the idea of banning dangerous breeds. He said that New York had tried: They brought in a law to ban certain breeds, and they had to repeal it because it was unenforceable … as I say, New York tried and had to stop. He went on to start to say something more constructive: The sort of things that we are looking at …"— unfortunately, he did not finish the sentence, so viewers were never told the sort of things the Government were looking at, although they were promised that, whatever they were, there would be considerable consultation about them.

The result was a barrage of press criticism the next day, culminating in the sort of headlines that we all deplore, such as that in the Daily Star, "You Wet Windbag". I have no doubt that that barrage of criticism prompted the Home Secretary to start taking what he presumably regarded as decisive action. On all the evidence, the right hon. Gentleman was still making policy from day to day. In the Sunday Times on 26 May, the Home Secretary reiterated his commitment to what he described as the destruction of dangerous dogs. However, he dismissed muzzling with the words, You can't muzzle a dog all the time. Muzzling now appears in clause 2. The right hon. Gentleman gave equally short shrift to the idea of making it an offence to allow a dog to be out of control in a public place. I quote him exactly: As for control in public places what happened in Lincolnshire was in a private place". The right hon. Gentleman said that one little girl was with her grandparents when the accident occurred. Now clause 3 makes it an offence for a dog to be out of control in a public place.

The Home Secretary's whole approach is superficial and in some ways trivial. The problem was highlighted in the opening paragraph of The Sunday Times report, which said that the right hon. Gentleman was a cat lover—Cheshire cats, we must assume, with a smile and not much else. Throughout the exercise he has worried not about the problem but about the headlines. His own party has criticised him for that, but I regard the criticism that appeared in the papers today from some of his hon. Friends as less than just, for in looking at headlines rather than problems he has done no more than behave in a way now endemic to the Government as a whole.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us another example of such behaviour last week, by responding not to the banks' imposition of exorbitant interest rates, but to the newspaper outcry about exorbitant interest rates. In both cases the problem was caused by Government inaction and failure to take the necessary steps. In each case, the Government responded with a policy designed to influence leader writers rather than to provide a complete remedy.

Headline chasing is another feature of Governments in terminal decline.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The right hon. Gentleman was chiding me, accusing Ministers of having spent the past 12 years not listening. When we do listen he accuses us of listening too much. In 1977 the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Cabinet when the British Veterinary Association advised against allowing pit bull terriers to be imported. If the Cabinet of which he was a member had taken that advice, all those savagings would not have taken place in the past few years. Why did the right hon. Gentleman ignore that advice when he was a Cabinet Minister?

Mr. Hattersley

The Home Secretary will be astonished to learn that I accept his criticism. We should have acted then. We all should have grown out of the habit of pretending that whatever was done by Administrations of which we were members was perfect. A mistake was made, but the real issue is whether the real problem is going to be faced now. By dealing with the problem in a superficial way, the Home Secretary fails to face the real issue—which, I repeat, and shall go on to explain, is the question of a dog registration scheme.

I have no objection to the Home Secretary's consulting interested parties, but I find it strange that he makes an ex cathedra statement every day about what he intends to do—and the statements change from one 24 hours to the next. I admire him for the fact that every time he changes his mind he announces his new intentions with the absolute certainty with which I remember him saying, almost a year ago, that there was no question but that the Conservative party would win the Mid-Staffordshire by-election. However, this is a more serious matter, with more serious consequences for the general public.

We need a comprehensive scheme, which must include a general register. When, on 22 May, I pressed the Home Secretary on the subject of a national registration scheme, he gave his objections to such a scheme purely in terms of the terrible case of Rucksana Khan—the awful injuries that the child had endured and which had dominated the headlines that week. Today he talks about a register being inappropriate for poodles and chihuahuas, whereas on 22 May he was saying that a register would be inappropriate for tosas and pit bull terriers. He ought to understand that a register is necessary for those prohibited groups, and now he has conceded the point, but a register is also necessary in the drive to reduce the number of other attacks by other dangerous dogs.

I understand that for the past two years an average of 10 dog attacks per month have required the victims to spend a period in hospital. During 1990, in the metropolitan area alone, there were 468 serious attacks, less than a quarter of which were by pit bull terriers. We need measures that will encourage responsible dog ownership in general, and a register is essential to that process.

The National Farmers Union believes that a register would reduce the number of attacks on sheep by stray dogs. The Automobile Association believes that a register would reduce the number of dogs likely to cause damage by running on to roads.

There is another point about responsible dog ownership that the Government need to consider. The creation of the right climate for responsible dog ownership requires the strongest possible action to be taken against those who breed dogs to fight, organise dog fights or attend them—whatever type of dog is involved. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary shares that view and will encourage the courts and others to take the strongest action against such people.

Mr. Baker

Dog fighting is illegal, and registration would not bear on the problem to any significant extent. The right hon. Gentleman is still arguing for a general dog registration scheme. As I shall argue later on the amendments, that would not deal with the problem of dangerous and vicious dogs. The right hon. Gentleman has to justify an elaborate scheme covering all dogs. I warn him that if he thinks that he is on to a winner with the registration scheme, he is not—for Peter Mandelson, who calls the shots on Labour policy, is against a registration scheme. He said so in his column in The Sunday People, which is prescribed reading for junior Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. If Mr. Mandelson can engineer the downfall of the Labour party's director of publicity, toppling the shadow Home Secretary should not prove too difficult for him.

Mr. Hattersley

The House may remember that I suggested timidly that the Home Secretary was treating the subject of the debate as trival. If anyone doubted that, the right hon. Gentleman's intervention will have confirmed that it is true.

Apparently the right hon. Gentleman and I are unanimous on taking the strongest possible action against those involved in any way in dog fighting. I cannot see how a man or woman can claim to take a responsible view of dog ownership if the dogs that they own are bred, kept and used for killing live hares, foxes or any other living animal.

The clear problem with the Bill is that when the Home Secretary first considered it he has nothing in his mind except one terrible incident involving one breed. In the House he kept talking about breeds intended for fighting, as if the intention of the dog was somehow important. In fact, as anyone who has been bitten by a dog will agree, the victim is wholly unconcerned with the dog's motives. Nobody cares what is going on in the dog's mind. The problem is what is in the dog's teeth.

All authorities on the subject tell us that almost every dog has the potential to attack, no matter how small or apparently timid it may be. We ought to encourage all dog owners to keep and treat their dogs in a way that minimises the risk. Everyone who thinks about such matters believes that a register would help.

The question of registration is crucial to our reservations about the Bill. When, on 22 May, the Home Secretary dismissed the idea of registration he was even wrong about the way in which a register would have applied to and might have helped in the tragedy of Rucksana Khan. He said: I do not believe that a general registration scheme would have had any effect on the dreadful incident last weekend. If that dog had been registered for £5 and had a computer number on its collar it would not have been prevented from attacking that little girl. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has now changed his mind. He believes that if pit bull terriers are to be allowed to remain in society they must have their names on what amounts to a register.

Even before that, the Home Secretary's analysis of the Rucksana Khan case was clearly wrong. I understand that the dog was bought by a young man from a dealer. Under a registration scheme, he would clearly have been required to register it at the point of purchase. The young man then left the young lady with whom he was living, abandoning the dog in her care.

There is every reason to believe that the young lady would have respected the law, and was greatly concerned at what the dog did while in her custody. Under a registration scheme, she would have been warned of the dangers that the ownership of the dog involved. She would have known—as she would have known in the case of a motor car that had been left in her care—that there was a necessity to licence the animal if it remained in her possession. Knowing of the necessity to licence it, she would have renewed the licence or transferred her name to it. She would then at least have been told of the dangers of keeping the dog and might well have been persuaded to have it put down.

I repeat that, despite his dismissal of the registration scheme, with explicit reference—[Interruption.] I think that the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary wishes to say something—

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

No, no.

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Why is it necessary to register the non-violent dogs? That is totally contrary to the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making—he is standing the argument on its head.

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. and learned Gentleman is denying all the evidence of the British Veterinary Association and all the animal organisations—all the organisations concerned with dogs, dog welfare and the keeping of dogs—by suggesting that there are some dogs of which he can say, "This one will never attack or do damage." He is also denying all the evidence offered by his hon. Friends that dogs of all breeds may run into the road and cause a lethal accident, and potentially dogs of all breeds will pursue sheep. Opposition Members merely ask for the creation of a climate of responsible ownership.

I repeat that, although the Home Secretary has been converted to the need for the registration of pit bull terriers, which was not his position on 22 May, regrettably he has not been converted to the need for registration in general. He ought to have the grace and sense to accept the need for a general registration scheme because until he does that the Bill will remain inadequate.

I have no hesitation, however, in describing the Bill as a step in the right direction. As the night proceeds, we shall attempt to improve it, but we shall not vote against it because, like the Home Secretary, we wish it to be passed into law at the earliest opportunity.

7.22 pm
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I immediately declare my interest. I am the owner of' three west highland terriers and a member of the national advisory panel of Pro-Dog.

Unfortunately, both inside and outside the House there is a group of people who loathe dogs. Many of them would like to see every dog in the land put into an incinerator. They would use any weapon that was put in their hands. Some of those people regard the Bill as a measure which, if exploited in a particular way, might provide the necessary weapon.

We talk of dangerous dogs and cite specific breeds, but it is totally wrong to claim that all dogs of a particular breed are dangerous, or even potentially dangerous. We must ask ourselves how it is that dangerous dogs appear on our streets. Until comparatively recently, all of us in Britain were prepared to accept that, on certain occasions, a dog will bite a person. In the past, we have been prepared to live with that.

In recent years, however, a certain culture has emerged, and people now keep particular types of dog for particular purposes. For example, someone may keep a dog with the intention of training it for dog fighting. No one is more filthy and despicable than the scum who get hold of dogs of whatever breed and train them in the most foul and abominable ways in which to kill each other. There are also people who think that it is clever and macho to have a large dog at their heel. They think that it enhances their image and makes them appear great men—powerful and intimidating.

We must ask ourselves what happens and how those dogs are treated. Any dog can become dangerous if it is not properly fed, exercised and trained—and there are far too many dogs in Britain that are not properly fed, exercised and trained. Let us consider each aspect in turn.

I suspect that many dogs are not properly fed. They may be given food produced by so-called pet food companies, but I sometimes ask myself what is in that food. We know of the various forms of factory farming. We know that food is mass produced. In the past—perhaps more than today—animals in factory farms have been fed on the most disgusting products. All sorts of very unpleasant offal, and other spare materials for which there is no other market, have been recycled. What effect has that had on human beings? Many believe that it has had a serious effect. There are controls on food for human consumption, whereas there are no controls on what is put into dog food. If a dog is not properly fed and does not have a balanced diet, it will inevitably have problems in later life.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Let me defend the reputation of the excellent pet food manufacturers in my constituency, who offer a first-class product. May I also, quite properly, defend the renderers' profession, which provides society with a first-class and unique recycling mechanism in respect of unspeakable objects which would otherwise have to be buried. For once, my hon. Friend does not know what he is talking about.

Mr. Bowden

My hon. Friend has a reputation for defending what she regards as her constituency interests —on occasion, without looking beyond them. That can be a somewhat narrow view. Sometimes, we have to consider the national interest rather than just a constituency interest.

What about exercising dogs? Far too many dogs in Britain are imprisoned in small quarters for much of the day. People who own dogs and leave them tied up in the yard or confined to a small room for 10 or 12 hours or more a day are in the process of creating dangerous dogs. Dogs can become frustrated and angry if they are not getting enough exercise or enjoying proper freedom. Similarly, too many people make no effort whatever to train their dogs. All those elements combined lead to the existence of far too many potentially dangerous dogs.

That is one side of the picture. We must remember the other side. Many people in this country regard their dogs as full and complete members of their family and treat them accordingly. They feed them properly and make sacrifices to bring them up and to ensure that they enjoy a full life. How different those people are from those who use the dog as a macho symbol or refuse to give it the care and attention that it should have—not just at Christmas or for a few months, but throughout its life.

The breeds that the House is discussing and which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has mentioned—the dogs referred to as "dangerous"—are those most likely to be used for dog fighting. Many of those dogs are taken away from their mothers when they are young puppies—in some cases only a few weeks old. They are then trained for fighting by a method which can only be described as torture to create viciousness. They are fed various products. Often they are given drugs, to which they become addicted. When the drugs are removed or the dose is significantly reduced, the dogs become extremely fierce and dangerous. In some cases, it is not in the nature of the creature to be like that at all.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Is my hon. Friend going to tackle the problem of dogs which are deliberately cross-bred to enhance the negative qualities that he is talking about?

Mr. Bowden

The two things are linked. Clearly, people who cross-breed dogs because they think that it will make them easier to train for fighting and will make them more vicious or nasty are another example of the despicable business that sadly goes on in our own country and in many other parts of the world.

However, what concerns me about those dogs as a group is that I suspect that every hon. Members knows of a case in his constituency—I certainly know of a number in mine—of pit bull terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers which are totally safe and happy family pets. Some have been described to me as being among the soppiest dogs. The way that such dogs have been brought up, trained and looked after means that they are as safe as any other breed, including my own, the West Highland terrier, which can show considerable signs of fierceness on occasion, especially if they believe that they are protecting their owners.

Mr. Cryer

Following the attack on Rucksana Khan, several observers said that the American pit bull terrier in question was apparently completely playful and had been in and out of nearby flats and played with children. All those witnesses were staggered that the dog had turned out to be so vicious. Therefore, one cannot with any certainty make assumptions about the behaviour of dogs.

Mr. Bowden

One cannot with certainty make assumptions about the behaviour of any animal on this planet—be it human or dog, or any other form of animal. There will be times when any animal, under certain circumstances or for no explicable reason, will behave terribly. The hon. Gentleman is making out a case for the extermination of dogs and that is what worries me about some hon. Members. That is the implication of what he said. Because there have been a tiny number of terrible cases—the number has increased alarmingly in recent years—the next step is to say that one cannot risk one single case, as there might be a terrible incident, and therefore we must go the whole hog and take the appropriate action.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend will support clause 1, which states that the Home Secretary can designate any breed of dog as dangerous, even if it is a chihuahua which happens to catch his ankle. On the following weekend, under clause 1(3), he can appoint for the purposes of this subsection that no one may own such a dog after that day.

Effectively, that is the elimination of dogs. Under this Bill, any dog can be destroyed on any date that the Home Secretary decides. Is that not too wide a power to take?

Mr. Bowden

That is a rather extreme interpretation of clause 1.

Mr. Devlin

It is in the Bill.

Mr. Bowden

It is still an extreme interpretation. I do not envisage my right hon. Friend, or any future Home Secretary, going down that path to that degree. I would prefer to rely upon the sensible application of clause 3, which is a crucial part of the Bill and which, if it is operated effectively and sensibly by the courts, will have a major part to play in helping to control the problem of dogs, which is without doubt a problem in certain areas.

I must not take up the time of the House, as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and we are on a timetable. We must never forget that dogs provide friendship, companionship and protection to many people. I have some worries about protection. I hope that, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State winds up, she will be able to comment on that. It worries me, because many people feel that they need dogs in their homes and gardens to protect them. If the dogs are confined within that private area on private property, it would be quite wrong for such a dog to be liable to be destroyed if it were to bite or attack someone while protecting its owners and their property.

There is also the question of dogs in the street. I shall again quote a personal example. On one occasion, my wife was in the street with one of our west highland terriers when she was accosted by a somewhat aggressive person who placed his fist right under her nose. The west highland terrier at my wife's foot growled, made some fierce noises and showed its teeth. I have no doubt that, if that man had struck my wife, the dog would have had its teeth into his ankle immediately. Is anyone suggesting that under those circumstances, when a dog was protecting its owner, the dog should be liable to be killed? It would be terrible and disgraceful if that were the case.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bowden

I prefer not to. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman but I have given way several times and I do not think that it is fair to the House, so I must continue.

I am committed to dogs, as indeed is the Pro-Dog organisation of which I am a member, and we do not believe that dog registration will work. We know that nearly 70 per cent. of owners have not registered in Northern Ireland. Responsible owners would register, but irresponsible owners would not. What would happen when it came to deciding about exemptions? If we had a dog registration scheme for all 7 million dogs, there would have to be some exemptions—for example, people on income support and many on pensions. There would be whole groups of exemptions; one would need a "Swansea for dogs", which would cost millions of pounds a year to operate.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)


Mr. Bowden

I would love to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not give way to his hon. Friend, and I must continue as quickly as possible.

I was disappointed in the answer of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when I asked him about a free vote on dog registration. Whatever the Government's reason for their decision, surely the Opposition should have allowed their members a free vote. I know that there are a considerable number of Opposition Members who do not support dog registration —I can see one on the Benches now and he is a man of great integrity. It is wrong that a three-line Whip should have been imposed by anyone, most of all by the Opposition, on an issue of this sort.

I would like firmer control of breeders to result from this Bill. They are the root of many of the problems. I would also like it to result in the elimination of puppy farms, the closing and elimination of pet shops and the selling of pets in supermarkets, and higher fines for irresponsible owners. Collars and discs are now required by law and I want significant fines for those who have failed to obey that law and for people who let their dogs run loose or foul the pavements—significant fines of not £5 or £10 but £50 or £100. If we were to follow those lines, we would go some way to deal with the dog problem that exists.

Society needs dogs. No law should be passed that will allow dogs to be penalised by dog haters and those blinded by prejudice.

7.38 pm
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

My mind goes back to the early days of my political career, when I was a junior urban district councillor. After about five days in office, I attended a public meeting of irate pensioners who were complaining about dog dirt on their open-plan gardens. One of the spokespeople said, "We want signs on the grass saying that dogs cannot defecate here." Being a clever and bright young thing, I said, "That is all very well, but dogs cannot read." I was immediately set upon by 35 pensioners and given the going over of my life. I have not had such a comprehensive going over since. Going through the door, a wise old councillor tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You might remember now, Terry boy, that dog dirt is a potent political issue."

I am reminded of that by the activities of the Lord President and the Home Secretary on this issue, which I accept are far more serious. Their minds are conditioned by the political consequences of not doing something. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who rightly drew attention to the political gymnastics of the Home Secretary over that terrible weekend when Rucksana Khan was savaged by a pit bull terrier.

Only a few days before that young child was savaged, I tabled an early-day motion outrageously suggesting that 10,000 pit bull terriers should be culled. I intended to raise the temperature of the debate in order to get something going. I was the most surprised person in the world when I heard the Home Secretary on the programme to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Spark brook referred saying, "We cannot do anything," yet on Monday agreeing with my outrageous idea of putting down 10,000 dogs.

The Lord President made the position worse, because he spoke of speedy solutions. I do not mind speedy solutions, and I shall support the Bill tonight, but it does not go far enough, and I hope to contribute in more detail in Committee. Speed is relevant to the issue. The House should not forget that, more than two years ago, a young girl in Scotland, Kelly Lynch, died. No hon. Member has mentioned that that 11 or 12-year-old girl was savaged to death by two dogs. They were not pit bull terriers but rottweilers. If that did not concentrate the minds of the Home Secretary's predecessor, certainly of the Cabinet and of other hon. Members, something should have. I regret that the Rucksana Khan case led to the introduction of the Bill, but why the blazes were we not in this position two years ago, when a young child lost her life?

That sets the scene for the debate, which is being held because of the impending general election and not because of the major issue of dog control. If the Government wanted seriously to tackle the dog problem, they would start with a dog registration scheme and all that goes with it. It is not just registering dogs and spending £20 million setting up the scheme. However, it must be remembered that the Cabinet have thrown £15 billion at registering people. They have not solved that problem, and, for political reasons, many billions more will be thrown at it. We cannot accept that as a political excuse.

I am sympathetic to some of the issues that have been mentioned, such as muzzling, keeping dogs on leads and exclusion zones, but each has its own problems. Has any hon. Member tried to muzzle an adult dog that has been brought up not to be muzzled? There will be a few neurotic adult dogs going round with muzzles on for the first time in their lives.

Mr. Morley

There will be a few fingers missing, too.

Mr. Lewis

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall not muzzle any pit bull terriers.

I accept that dogs should be on leads in public places, but in the area that I represent, there are limited areas where dogs can be exercised securely. Pit bull terriers, rottweilers and alsatians must be exercised: the bigger the dog, the more exercise it needs. It is all very well if someone has a huge garden, a paddock or a private place to exercise such dogs, but someone who must exercise his dog in public places can experience severe difficulty. Keeping such a dog on a lead can be crueller than putting it down.

Other problems must be debated and resolved. We cannot throw a Bill on the Floor of the House, guillotine it and say, "That will solve the problem", because it will not.

I regret that the provisions of clause 3 do not extend directly to private property. The courts are not the answer, because they are clogged up with poll tax defaulters and associated problems. A postman or woman has a one in four chance of being mauled by anything from a chihuahua to a pit bull terrier.

Mr. Cryer

Or a canvasser.

Mr. Lewis

The same applies to a canvasser, indeed. Last year, 7,000 postmen and women were bit by dogs.

I support the Bill, I hope to be able to make a constructive speech in the Committee stage and I regret that there is no dog registration scheme, but I believe that a dog's breakfast will be created if we do not address the other issues that I have mentioned.

I should rather call the dog registration scheme a comprehensive dogs Act. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) mentioned the problem of puppy farming. In pub car parks in north Wales on a Sunday morning, one can see dealers from Manchester picking up five-week-old puppies that should not be taken from bitches at that age and taking them back to Manchester to be sold for £150 or £200.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Does my hon. Friend recall that some of those puppy farmers set themselves up in business in response to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seeking to divert farmers from agriculture production? The same policy is pursued in the EC, which is seeking to subsidise greyhound breeding in member states.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend makes the point well. I believe that he has raised the matter in the House at least once.

We can no longer tolerate almost neurotic dogs being sold in pet shops and so-called pet supermarkets like those in the Manchester area. Control of that must be part of a comprehensive dogs Act. We all know what is going on and we know who the perpetrators are, but RSPCA inspectors have no jurisdiction in puppy farms. Those farms might have two or three brood bitches—birth machines that are used time and again to produce pups.

The Kennel blub has been prayed in aid several times in the debate, but it is as culpable as anybody for that puppy farming. One can go to those disreputable dealers—most of them are disreputable—and be given a piece of paper guaranteeing that a dog is of a certain pedigree.

Mr. Hardy

I am not a member of the Kennel Club, and have not been for quite some time, but the club has been seeking ways of discouraging that practice without being in breach of its own regulations, which it must observe. The Home Secretary will be aware that the responsibility lies with the Home Office. One of my hon. Friends is eager to bring in a Bill on the subject. It could have been presented to the House a long time ago, and I am sure that it would have met with widespread approval. It is time that the Home Office facilitated the passage of such a measure.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend would have more chance of convincing me if the Kennel Club took a more robust approach and a less defensive stance on most dog issues.

I shall reiterate the point that has recurred throughout my speech: responsible dog ownership. The registration scheme would promote responsible dog ownership. I should declare my own interest: I have always had fox terriers. Why fox terriers? My ancient old dog died a year ago, but I am still a responsible dog owner. That seems contradictory, but I am responsible because I know that, with my life style—five days in London and two days back home in my constituency—I cannot find or afford the time to deal responsibly with a new puppy. One needs three or four hours a day to train a puppy to be a responsible adult dog, and because I cannot do that, I shall wait until I retire from this place before I own another dog.

7.51 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), who drew on his experience as a dog owner and in local government to give some interesting highlights of dog ownership and dog control.

As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales, and I declare that interest. Although, like many hon. Members, I regret the need for its introduction, I support the Bill because I believe that the time has come to take action to prevent the continuation of attacks on the public, families and police by ferocious and dangerous dogs, particularly pit bull terriers and other breeds of fighting dogs, including new breeds. I assure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the Police Federation wholeheartedly supports his prompt action in introducing the Bill today.

Owners of pit bull terriers in my constituency who have made representations to me understand the need for the Bill, particularly as it does not single out pit bull terriers, but applies to other types of fighting dogs such as the Japanese tosa.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he said about the attitude of the Police Federation because I have seen a press release in the name of Mr. Barrie Clarke, the federation's press and public relations officer, which gives a different impression? It says: I think the Home Secretary has been badly advised by officials of the home office on his proposals to deal with dangerous dogs. The press release complains of a lack of consultation.

Mr. Shersby

There is no conflict between what I am saying and the press release to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Last week the federation was critical of proposals which, it believed, would involve the police in administering the scheme. That was because they already have a great deal to do in preventing crime and did not wish to shoulder the responsibility for the scheme's management. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it perfectly clear today that it is not to be the responsibility of the police, whose sole responsibility will be to issue the forms and register the names of people who apply for them, so that problem has been overcome. There is no doubt that the Bill has the wholehearted support of the Police Federation.

There is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence about attacks on individuals, in addition to information supplied by hon. Members about serious attacks that have resulted in injury or death. Those incidents have been in our minds in recent weeks, but there have been many other attacks in recent months which have gone unreported, but which emphasise the urgent need for action.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I sound like a policeman on duty for a minute or so, but I should like to put a few facts to illustrate my argument. Between November 1989 and May 1990 the Metropolitan police carried out a survey of dangerous dog incidents. I think that that survey is probably the only one available that gives an accurate picture. It showed that there were 237 incidents involving ferocious dogs in the Metropolitan police district during that time, of which no fewer than 95 were carried out by pit bull terriers. Some 50 of them were carried out by German shepherd dogs, 14 by dobermans and the rest by a variety of other breeds. Those are interesting figures because they give the House a clear idea of the proportion of attacks carried out by pit bulls and German shepherd dogs—other breeds came pretty far down the list.

Many of those attacks—but by no means all—were carried out by abandoned dogs, which form a large part of the problem. On 17 January 1990 at Croydon lane, Banstead, an abandoned American pit bull terrier attacked passers-by, probably after it had had a light. In Lordship lane SE22, an American pit bull terrier was tied and abandoned in an alley way. On 7 May in Old road, Crayford, a pit bull was thrown from a passing car. It was scarred, the police assumed that it had been fighting and it was put down. In November 1989, at Gresley close N15, a Staffordshire bull terrier made an unprovoked attack on two children in its owner's family. A number of attacks have taken place on children in the family of the owner of the animal involved.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

It has been said that some dogs are good family pets. Having spoken to the police, does the hon. Member agree that there is evidence of people breeding aggressive dogs with aggressive bitches to produce even more aggressive offspring?

Mr. Shersby

There is evidence of that, and it is reflected in the number of attacks on the family or close relatives of the owner of the animal involved.

In November, there was an attack at Walton Green, New Addington, when an American pit bull terrier attacked children aged seven and 11 in the street causing puncture wounds to their elbows, chin and cheeks. In another attack at Walsham road SE14, an American pit bull entered a school and attacked a child. It was a completely unprovoked attack and the child and school staff had no way of knowing that the animal would enter the school.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Should we not put the subject in perspective? Although I do not wish to support pit bull terriers—the numbers of attacks frightening—there are an estimated 7.5 million dogs in this country. In comparison to the total number of dogs, the number of attacks seems small.

Mr. Shersby

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, but I must remind him that it is clear from the Metropolitan police survey, which looked at 237 incidents during six months in London, that 95 incidents concerned pit bull terriers. That is a substantial proportion. I will give my hon. Friend another example. In Kennington park, a large group of youths with 10 American pit bull terriers threatened the police. It was thought that the youths may have been preparing the animals for a dog fight. At Horton road, Yiewsley, in my constituency, in April last year, an unsupervised pit bull terrier attacked two goats in a compound, resulting in the death of both goats. That is the nature of the problem with which the Bill is intended to deal.

There is no doubt that the pit bull terrier is one of the most prominent animals in causing death and destruction to human beings and to other animals.

Mr. Devlin

The Metropolitan police figures for 1990 show that of the 468 incidents of attacks on humans, 111 were carried out, as my hon. Friend said, by pit bull terriers. However, 86 were carried out by alsatians. According to the definition in clause I, it is unlikely to be argued that alsatians are fighting dogs or dogs bred for the purpose of fighting. Unless my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes a wide interpretation of clause 1, such attacks will continue unabated by the Bill.

Mr. Shersby

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is listening carefully.

I made the point that 50 attacks during the six months concerned were carried out by German shepherd dogs, which are regarded as being the same as the alsatian breed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he would have powers under the Bill to extend the provision. If, on the basis of evidence available to him and to his colleagues in the Home Office, he comes to the conclusion that the German shepherd breed constitutes a danger as it does in certain circumstances, he will no doubt use the powers conferred on him by the Bill to deal with that problem.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

During my lifetime, I have been bitten eight times by dogs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I will tell the House exactly where I was bitten. I was bitten on the wrist by a cairn terrier when I offered a sandwich to its mate. That happened at Mackie's Hole in Angus. I was next bitten in Gifford by a collie. I was next bitten by an alsatian when canvassing in Liberton. I was next bitten by an alsatian when canvassing in central Edinburgh. I was next bitten by an alsatian when canvassing in Perthshire. I was next bitten by a scottie when canvassing in Perthshire. I do not think that dogs are all that good about not biting—certainly not biting me.

Mr. Shersby

I am tempted to say that my hon. and learned Friend has made a biting contribution to the debate, but perhaps that is unwise.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made what I and the police thought was a good speech to the police conference in Bournemouth. I and the police officers there listened to that speech with care and attention. I can tell my right hon. Friend that there was a great sense of relief that he was prepared to tackle the problem and that his action has the support of the Opposition. My role in advising the police is a cross-party one and I am delighted that the Opposition have taken a helpful attitude in supporting the Bill tonight.

I was told by a number of officers from various parts of the country at the police conference about the increasing use of pit bull terriers by drug dealers. They use them literally as an offensive weapon to prevent the police from entering premises in which it is believed that drugs are being kept. I was also told that in the United States, that aspect of the problem has become so serious that the police break down the door with a sledgehammer and then shoot the animal concerned without question before searching the premises of the suspected drug dealer.

I am not sure that I command the agreement of the House in saying that we do not wish such a situation to develop here. The police oppose the carrying of firearms and they do not wish to use them in such a situation. However, we must support the police by dealing with the problem and ensuring that drug dealers and others who use ferocious dogs as an offensive weapon can no longer do so. I welcome, therefore, the compulsory muzzling or leashing of pit bull terriers as soon as the Bill becomes law.

I also strongly support the prohibition on possession of a pit bull terrier unless it has satisfied the tough requirements proposed in my right hon. Friend's exemption scheme, which requires certification, confirming neutering and physical marking. The police are glad to know that responsibility for certification will not impose further burdens on their time, which is already under considerable strain. I am glad to know that the tasks will be put out to tender. I regard that as typical of my right hon. Friend's willingness to listen. He has been criticised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for making changes since the scheme was announced only a couple of weeks or so ago, but he has listened not only to hon. Members, but to the police, and he deserves all credit for so doing.

The Bill provides for the control of dogs on a public place. Although the police strongly support the Bill, they are still concerned that clause 3 refers only to a dog being dangerously out of control in a public place, which is defined as being any street, road or place (whether or not enclosed) to which the public have or are permitted to have access whether for payment or otherwise. In the Home Office consultation paper to which the Police Federation responded, it was envisaged that powers might be available to the police in any place other than a public place to enable them to control or destroy dogs that were dangerously out of control.

Such a provision would have enabled a police officer to enter premises, as the police often do, with or without a warrant, to deal with domestic disputes and to be able to deal with a dangerous dog. I want my right hon. Friend to consider the following scenario. A police officer is called to go to a home to deal with a domestic dispute. That happens every day. That constable may face a ferocious dog. How is he to deal with a ferocious animal being set on him? Under the Bill, it will not be possible for the provision to apply because the police officer is in a private, not a public place. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for State, when he replies to the debate, will tell the House about the Home Office's thinking on that point.

If such a scenario occurs, the police can, if support is available, try with the assistance of a dog handler or a veterinarian to tranquilise the dog. The destruction of the dog on private premises would always be a last resort. However, why is there no provision in the Bill to deal with the problem that a constable may face? Let us consider a constable who could be of any age from 18 to retirement age, and who faces a ferocious animal. That is a difficult task.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider that problem further, because the police are concerned about it and the problem has clearly not yet been resolved. I assume that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has decided as a matter of policy that an offence should occur only in a public place. However, I have been told that it could be argued that an owner or a person in charge of a dog may not allow a dog to leave the home and therefore enter a public place. That person may then be able to plead a defence if the dog escapes without the owner's intervention.

The same question could arise in relation to clause 1(2)(e), where there is no definition of "stray". When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State replies to the debate, perhaps he can tell me whether "stray" is defined in some ancient statute about dogs. I should be interested in such a definition.

Clause 1(3) relates to the destruction scheme. Who will administer that scheme? Why does there appear to be an apparent contradiction in clause 4(4)(b), which states that the offender may be ordered by the court to pay such sum as the court may determine to be the reasonable expenses of destroying the dog and of keeping it pending its destruction", and clause 4(5), which states: Any sum … shall be recoverable … as a civil debt"— a point that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made earlier? The Metropolitan police spent £56 per dog in kennelling fees between 1 January and 31 December 1990 because of the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation for pit bulls. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is the police authority for the metropolis, I hope that he will be kind enough to consider those figures.

The Metropolitan police has had to use expensive private kennels while the fate of dogs was determined. Would it not be better to include in any fine imposed by the court the cost of kennelling the dog pending determination of its fate?

According to clause 3(1), if a dog is out of control in a public place, the owner is guilty of an offence and is liable, according to clause 3(3)(b), on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine or both. How would the Crown prosecution service deal with such offences given the present contraints on its financial resources? The service's policy of reducing aggravated to non-aggravated offences causes me to speculate that there might be a problem. In invite my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to compare with the offences provided for in the Bill the issue that has arisen over the reduction of aggravated bodily harm to common assault in many cases where a person has been charged with assaulting a police officer. If the CPS is obliged, for financial reasons, to mitigate a charge under clause 3(3)(b), the clause may transpire to be relatively toothless.

Mr. Devlin

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shersby

I have nearly finished, and no doubt my hon. Friend will make his contribution if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I welcome the fact that by 30 November the Bill will be full in force and that the exemption scheme will be introduced in the meantime. I am sure that the result will be greater protection for the public and for the police from savage attacks by these ferocious dogs. I am grateful for the prompt action that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Clearly many hon. Members want to take part in the debate. Brief speeches would be very much appreciated.

8.14 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I will try to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Some hon. Members have given the impression that dogs are dangerous only when they bite. People who are nervous when dogs are around them can be deeply upset and their day may be spoiled if, in the course of their business, a dog barks loudly and runs towards them. In Glasgow, I have often seen a great big alsatian running towards someone and the owner has shouted, "It's all right. It won't touch you." I dare say such things have been said elsewhere in the country as well.

The Home Secretary said that the registration scheme would cost about £20 million. Is he aware that uncontrolled dogs cost millions around the country? We have in Glasgow some of the finest parks in the world. When I was a boy, you could go to the park and the park warden would shout at someone if a dog was not on a lead.

Nowadays, parents avoid taking their young children to parks. They may be in a play area with their children for only five minutes and a pit bull terrier or other large dog may enter that area. Because of the publicity that those dogs have received, parents remove their children from a potentially dangerous situation. It is dangerous not only because of the risk of being bitten, but because dogs are allowed to urinate and do their business in areas where young children are supposed to play. There must be a monetary loss if parks are properly maintained, but the only people who enter them are dog owners.

The Minister responsible for housing in Scotland and the other Scottish Ministers will claim that there is no need for the local authority to build new housing in Glasgow because there is plenty of housing to go round. Ministers know full well that on some housing estates in Glasgow, the people are ashamed of the dirt and filth around them. One of the reasons why people want to get out of those estates is that dogs can wander around them and do what they want.

There is a tradition of terraced housing in England. However, imagine a tenement building with a large dog on the premises. The dog has no idea that he is supposed to allow other people to get into their flats. That dog is territorial, and he will attack any stranger approaching the tenement. People may have their flats in the tenement looking like palaces, but there is dirt and filth in the entrance.

I was brought up in a Glasgow slum, and it sickens me to see houses that are only 30 years old being demolished. One of the causes of that is that we have allowed dogs to run out of control.

I have tabled an amendment about multi-occupation. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to reassure us that, when he talks about dogs in public, "public" means the foyers, lifts and staircases of multi-storey flats, deck access buildings and tenement buildings. Some of the so-called barrack-room lawyers will say, "Well, my dog has to he controlled on the pavement, but once it gets inside the tenement building or multi-storey flat, we can do what we want."

I am amazed when I hear people say that the problem is not the dog but the bad owner. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred to the bad owner and a dog which could be regarded as a lethal weapon. A loaded and primed machine gun will harm no one unless a bad owner sets it off. The same applies to dogs. No one has anything against dogs, but we know that if dogs are put into the wrong hands they can cause much bother.

The Scottish Special Housing Association in my constituency restricted dogs, and its multi-storeyed flats are a pleasure to live in. I do not wish to criticise the district council, but the lifts in some of its multi-storeyed flats are getting old. We are down to one lift in a multi-storeyed building. Men and women who regularly pay their rent have to step into a lift to go up 17 storeys, and they must share that lift with a pit bull terrier or a rottweiler. I have written to the housing department saying that I could not believe my eyes when, on the 18th floor of a multi-storeyed building, a great dane came into the lift. If tenants and dog owners are inconsiderate, I see no reason why the House should not do something about it.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned the police in New York, but at least they have guns. I do not want that to happen here, but the only line of defence for police in Glasgow, London and other cities are fire extinguishers. Apparently, they disorient dogs. If drugs, for example, are not found in a house, the owner could charge a police officer with causing undue suffering to a poor animal.

The legislation is long overdue. We should have dealt with the matter years ago.

I shall bear in mind what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but a postman who was interviewed on television summed up the matter when he said, "This is a good job, which has been wasted by dogs." At a social evening held by electrical trade unions on Friday, electricity meter readers told me that the problem is getting so bad that at least four personnel are being bitten each week. They dread the school holidays. When a child gets up in the morning, his first duty is to open the door and let out the dog. The electricity worker is usually the first to be confronted by that dog.

I have heard what my hon. Friends have said about the legislation being pushed through. In a sense, it is good that it is being pushed through, because it has not allowed the vested interests or the lobbyists to work on various Members of Parliament. At least we are considering the matter based on our constituency experiences.

8.23 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the manner in which he has listened to representations. It saddens me that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), in his churlish attack on my right hon. Friend, found it necessary to chide him for the way in which he has taken on board representations from a large number of people.

In his statement on 22 May, my right hon. Friend made it abundantly plain that he intended to take representations and that he intended to be flexible. He has done exactly that. Throughout the Whitsun recess, my right hon. Friend met representatives of the Joint Association for the Care of Pets in Society, the British Veterinary Association, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He took representations from owners of American pit bull terriers, and even found time to see me and to hear my views as vice-chairman of the all-party animal welfare group.

My right hon. Friend has produced a Bill that cannot possibly be all things to all people. It is not possible to satisfy both sides in such an emotive argument. The measures that he has brought before the House go a long way towards meeting the needs and concerns of those who own pit bull terriers, those who own other large breeds of dog, and the many members of the general public who are extremely concerned about the manner in which dogs are trained, handled and looked after.

Clause 3 creates the much-needed new offence of permitting dogs to be dangerously out of control in a public place. I was slightly alarmed to hear my right hon. Friend place a caveat on the control of dogs that might cause traffic accidents. It is an absolute fact that, year on year, a large number of accidents are caused as a result of stray dogs—dogs out of control—running amok among traffic. It is probably true that as much injury is caused to human beings as a result of such an incident as is caused by dogs carrying out, for example, the savage and tragic attack about which we have heard so much today.

When I met my right hon. Friend, I suggested that he might look carefully at the age of the handlers of large dogs. I urge him, perhaps before the Bill reaches another place, to reconsider that point. It is an absolute fact that a six-stone dog in the control of a five-stone child will win. It is quite possible for a large dog that is out of control to drag a small child under a truck. Having been hit by a truck, that child will be just as dead as he would be if he had been savaged by the animal.

If my right hon. Friend is to take the powers that clause 2 affords him, he might do well, when designating other breeds, to consider designating that minors should not be allowed to be in control of them in public places. That would be for the protection of the animal, which clearly needs to be kept in control on a leash—it is not enough for an animal to be on a lead—and for the protection of the child concerned.

Clause 3, which provides for magistrates to specify control measures to be applied on complaint that a dog is dangerous will be widely welcomed. The day of the adage that a dog should be allowed one bite is over. It is time that we recognised that the courts must have powers to place controls on individual animals. I am pleased about that, and I believe that the public will also be pleased. The courts will take advantage of that power.

My right hon. Friend has struck the right balance between responsible owners of pit bull terriers, all of whom recognise that they have control of highly dangerous animals, and other owners who are wildly irresponsible and who breed dogs purely for fighting and other unpleasant purposes. I am sure that the majority of people —certainly those pit bull owners who have made representations to me—will accept the restrictions that my right hon. Friend intends to place upon them. They will understand the necessity to phase out the breeds of fighting dogs that are currently available in this country, and they will accept the spirit of compromise that my right hon. Friend has reached.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deserves not carping criticism but considerable praise from the Opposition. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is not present. It ill behoves him to promote dog registration. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) led the previous campaign to introduce dog registration. I was privileged to support her in that campaign, and on that occasion we lost by just three votes. Some of us were sad that more than 20 Opposition Members failed to turn up to support us on that occasion. That shows how much they really care about dog registration. This move by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is no more than political opportunism.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gale

I do not intend to give way to the hon. Gentleman. However, I shall place on record my appreciation of the fact that both he and a number of his hon. Friends support dog registration just as passionately as many Conservative Members. The all-party animal welfare group is just that—an all-party group. Members of Parliament in all parts of the House support its aims. It ill behoves the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to seek to claim this particular measure as his own. The new clause that has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) will, I hope, attract wide support, if there should be a vote upon it.

Mr. Corbett

The hon. Gentleman has been uncharacteristically unfair. He knows that, both last time and tonight, it was possible for the Opposition, in their own name, to table an amendment to introduce a national dog registration scheme. We deliberately stood aside so that an all-party proposal could be tabled, which we shall support.

Mr. Gale

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but my criticism was of his right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, who made what I thought was an uncharacteristically carping speech, in which he sought to claim for his own the measures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has carefully devised; and in which he also sought to criticise the actions that have been taken in the House to introduce dog registration. He must remember that 20 of his hon. Friends failed to support it last time around. This Johnny-cum-latterly approach is not good enough. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present at the time, but the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook had to concede earlier in the debate that he had voted against dog registration.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recognised, in the orders that he intends to introduce under clause 1, the need not for, in his words, a national dog registration scheme—which is what many people would like—but for the licensing of a particularly dangerous breed of dog, if any of those dogs are to be allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has recognised the need for such a scheme. At the very least, the House should recognise that a dangerous dog is every bit as dangerous as a shotgun. It is necessary to license a shotgun, although it is unnecessary to license an air rifle.

Again I say to my right hon. Friend—I have put it to him privately on a previous occasion—that, if he is prepared to return to the House later tonight and say that he is willing, under the powers contained in clause 2, not to consider licensing but definitely to license those dogs that he designates, I for one will be satisfied. If he is not prepared to do that, I am sure that he will understand me when I say that I shall most certainly support my hon. Friend's amendment. I believe that some form of registration is necessary. However, I emphasise that the overriding need is for the licensing of dangerous dogs. If we can achieve that, we shall have achieved a great deal.

Mr. Ashby

Does my hon. Friend recognise that some hon. Members would vote against Second Reading if my right hon. Friend were to return to the House and say that he was prepared to license the dogs that he had designated?

Mr. Gale

That is a matter for my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider.

With my proviso about the omission of a registration scheme that many of us would like introduced, I believe that the Bill will help to control dangerous dogs, and will also make a major contribution to animal welfare. I am therefore grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for having introduced it.

8.34 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

This Bill has been needed for some time. There has been widespread concern about the growing number of attacks by ferocious dogs in places frequented by the public, although, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) said, not always so clearly in public. None the less, they terrify members of the public. The girl aged 12 in Scotland, who was referred to earlier—Kelly Lynch —was killed by two rottweilers. That case did not lead to the introduction of the legislation that some people considered necessary even then. The Bill has been introduced in response to a peculiarly horrifying attack upon another girl, this time in Bradford, which mercifully did not result in her death—but only just.

The Bill may come to be regarded as more significant for what it provides generally than for what it provides for specific breeds of fighting dogs. The proposed new offence in clause 3, that of permitting a dog of any breed to be dangerously out of control in a public place, may in time prove more significant than the provisions for designation in clause 1. I welcome the fact that the Government have decided to take action about fighting breeds of dogs, but there are major definition problems. We shall need to be watchful. Attempts will undoubtedly be made to import cross-breed fighting dogs that fall outside the scope of the provisions in clause 1.

The breeding of dogs for fighting is a covert trade. The associated ugly business of dealing in such dogs is carried on with the intention of concealing, as far as possible, what is being done. It will not be easy to adopt a piecemeal approach—by designating from time to time particular breeds or part-breeds as they come to be perceived to be the particular menace.

None the less, the Home Secretary was right to abandon his initial proposal that all dogs of the specified breeds should be put down. That would have been unenforceable and would have aroused a backlash of public opinion that would have defeated the purpose of the measure. To neuter, muzzle and impose heavy fines on those who do not conform with the law is a common-sense approach that should be welcomed.

The principal requirement, which I welcome—that owners of specified dangerous breeds should carry third party insurance—seems to me, however, not to have been practically worked out with the insurance industry. The Government should talk in particular to the Association of British Insurers about the practical consequences of the proposal. There are considerable doubts about whether insurance companies will be prepared to insure the specified breeds.

It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, that normal household cover includes dogs, but the more dangerous the dog the more difficult it is to obtain cover. I should like to hear what consultations the Minister of State, Home Office—the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold)—has had with insurance companies about the problems that they envisage in extending insurance effectively.

The Bill's insurance requirements are limited. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like the requirement of third party insurance extended to cover all dogs. We must recognise that, although the more spectacular attacks recently have been by dangerous breeds, dogs kept for other purposes have badly wounded in many attacks. The figures produced for the metropolis show that many dogs that are bred to provide guide dogs for the blind—alsatians being widely used for that purpose—are among the most dangerous dogs. Such dogs should be covered by compulsory third party arrangements.

Breed is not the critical issue, because mongrels rank third or fourth among those dogs responsible for damage and for serious attacks. We submit that the insurance requirements should cover ownership of any dog. The duties of ownership will not be properly discharged unless one point is driven home much more forcefully than the Government have done in this debate and more forcefully than has been demonstrated in their approach to the problem. For that reason, we strongly believe that the time is right to introduce a nationwide registration scheme.

The Bill is seriously defective, even within its limited scope. Admittedly, it does not attempt to deal with many of the problems arising from dog ownership—for example, the fouling of pathways and the difficulty of keeping pathways open for use by young children, to which the hon. Member for Springburn referred. The ambit of the Bill is narrow—it is designed to deal with attacks on members of the public by savage dogs. It would he strengthened by a dog registration scheme, bringing home to owners their duty to keep their dogs under control and enabling evidence to be produced, where they fail to do so, that they are responsible for their dogs, whether through ownership or through possession.

Such a scheme can be administered. We have had licence schemes this century for longer than we have not. It should be possible for a licence scheme to be administered by local authorities. The police are already heavily overburdened and, although there should be full consultation with them, it is eminently suitable to set up a scheme financed by a registration fee given to local authorities to enforce dog control, to provide education and to implement an anti-fouling policy. Such a scheme has been recommended by a number of local authority associations and would be workable.

Additional resources will be needed if local authorities are to operate effectively. Only about half the local authorities have dog wardens. There will be opportunities later, in the debate on the cross-party new clause and on the new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends to introduce a registration scheme, to consider the arguments in greater detail. The Bill's defects do not detract from the importance of enacting it as soon as possible, so we shall vote for it.

8.44 pm
Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

During the statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I intervened to say that I was extremely pleased that he was taking measures in favour of responsible ownership of dogs. That was due to an unfortunate incident in my constituency—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred—when a family pet savaged a small child in Yardley Wood. It was not a pit bull terrier but a Staffordshire bull terrier, and it had never previously shown any signs of aggression. I therefore particularly welcome those clauses relating to responsible ownership and control of dogs.

I should like in particular to concur with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), who criticised the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The right hon. Gentleman's gratuitous attack on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was totally uncalled for and was the worst possible example of politics coming before principles. I should particularly like to quote the right hon. Gentleman's comments on rottweilers on 22 May 1991, when he asked: Why are rottweilers not to be included in the prohibited category? It seems from the right hon. Gentleman's comments today that he has changed his position. Surely it is therefore extremely hypocritical of the right hon. Gentleman to criticise my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has consulted widely and moved totally in keeping with his remarks on 22 May, when he said: If dogs can be made safe by neutering, I shall he prepared to consider it."—[Official Report. 22 May 1991; Vol. 191, c. 946–49.] That is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has done—he has considered the matter and acted upon it. The criticism by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and certain elements of the press is not only distasteful but, in the opinion of my constituents, uncalled for.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) pinpointed the fact that clause 3 may be the most lasting contribution on the issue. It is extremely important in terms of controlling dogs that are dangerously out of control in a public place. I differ, however, with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North in that I believe that that has nothing to do with registration.

There are tower blocks in my constituency where dogs roam around untended and make it extremely difficult to get into those flats. Registration would make no difference to that; the only thing that would make a difference—if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considered it necessary or if local authorities believed it necessary in the future—would be measures to ensure that all dogs in public places, not designated as parks, were kept on a lead. That would make those areas safe. It would be the answer to the complaints by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin)—it would refer equally to his tenement blocks and to my tower blocks. A registration scheme would have no effect on those dogs.

I have had great pleasure in owning as a family pet a bulldog—a breed which some people may consider to have been dangerous in the past and which was originally bred for fighting. I am therefore well aware of the care and attention that is necessary if one owns such a breed. I paid great attention to ensuring that that dog was on a lead whenever I was in a public place, not because I thought that the dog would attack anybody—I knew that it was perfectly friendly—but because I was worried that other people might be frightened by its appearance. I knew that if it was kept on a lead it could not cause anybody else any inconvenience or distress. That is my response to the particular comments by the hon. Member for Springburn.

References to puppy farming are somewhat irrelevant to this debate. The real problems of pit bull terriers and the dangerous dogs that have been responsible for the attacks have nothing to do with puppy farming. It is unfortunate that some dogs have had certain characteristics repeatedly bred into their strain. They include pit bull terriers, tosas, alsatians, rottweilers and dobermans. Some dogs are bred specifically, using an aggressive dog and an aggressive bitch, to produce a more aggressive animal. It is to those dogs that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has correctly addressed the Bill. Unfortunately, there will always be instances of the family pet—or somebody else's family pet—deciding, for no apparent reason, to sink his teeth into some poor—

Mr. Tony Banks

Unsuspecting Tory candidate.

Mr. Hargreaves

Let us just say, into some poor, unsuspecting passerby.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and other hon. Members have expressed the view that certain types of dog are as dangerous as a loaded firearm, saying, "We need a certificate and to be registered to own a firearm." I have often ridden or been in close proximity to horses that I would describe as being every bit as dangerous as the breeds of dog to which we have referred tonight. The House is not, however, talking about establishing a registration system for horses. I have known people whose faces have been dreadfully disfigured by horses bucking or kicking and being out of control in a public place. People have even been killed by horses, but we are not talking about every type of horse being registered. That is because registration cannot make any difference to an animal's behaviour. Responsible ownership—from the horse rider or the dog owner—is what really counts.

I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) who suggested that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should reconsider the question of minors being in control of certain dogs in public places. The same could be said about horses. Any animal that is out of control poses a potential danger, not only to itself but to people. It is a potential accident spot. Any animal in a public place that is controlled solely by a minor must also fall within that category.

I am certain that my right hon. Friend will wish further to consider those points. As we have been asked to be brief, I shall draw my remarks to a close by saying that I wholeheartedly support the Bill and urge my right hon. Friend not to allow this issue to be clouded by talk of a registration scheme.

8.53 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

When he opened this debate, the Home Secretary would have had the House believe that the Government have acted decisively and swiftly over the problem of trying to control dangerous dogs. That is also what we were told on the afternoon of the savage attack on young Rucksana Khan. We heard that the Home Secretary had been on the telephone to the Prime Minister to demand urgent action to control dangerous dogs. He is reported to have told the Prime Minister, "We cannot wait. There must be a Bill this Session". He might have added, "We are taking a right mauling in the tabloid press in a possible general election year and must be seen to be doing something."

I do not know whether that is what happened, but I know that more than two years ago my constituent, Kellie Lynch, was killed in a savage attack by two rottweilers. Ever since, her parents, Veronica and John Lynch, have campaigned courageously and ceaselessly to try to get the Government to take some action to prevent what happened to their daughter from happening to anyone else's children. I also know that their campaign has been ignored and dismissed by the Government and their Ministers, at least one of whom showed what could only be described "measured contempt" when dealing with those parents' legitimate demands.

I well remember the Adjournment debate in which I participated almost exactly two years ago and the comments of the Minister, who said that banning or prohibiting particular breeds of dog was "manifest nonsense", "rubbish", "unsustainable" and "an absurdity". He added that a ban or prohibition on American pit bull terriers cannot operate because it is nonsense if one focuses on breeds … it is impossible to prohibit possession and importation by way of breed,"—[Official Report, 15 June 1989; Vol. 154, c.1200.]

What was impossible then has suddenly become all too possible now.

Mr. Tony Banks

Who was the Minister?

Mr. McAllion

It was the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who is now at the Foreign Office.

Clause 1 not only prohibits the possession of fighting dogs and bans their breeding and sale, but specifies the dogs by breed in the statute. That is the very thing that the Government told us was nonsensical rubbish only a short time ago. Anyone who does not accept that argument need only read clause 1(1)(a), which refers to any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier", or clause 1(1)(b), which refers to any dog of the type known as the Japanese tosa".

The Home Secretary has admitted that there are problems when trying to define dogs by breed and has promised that he will issue guidelines on identification to dog wardens and police. The Bill uses the more general description of "pit bull terrier" rather than the more specific breeding term of "American pit bull terrier". However, whichever way he dodges and weaves, the right hon. Gentleman cannot escape from the reality, which is that he is now doing exactly what the Government said only two years ago could not be done.

Mr. Tony Banks

The whole House will acknowledge the foresight that was displayed by my hon. Friend in his Adjournment debate, to which I listened, and will remember the comments made by the then Minister, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who I understand is now probably on his way back from Beirut, having been recalled. Does my hon. Friend agree that, having said what he did to him, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham deserved to be sent to Beirut, and is not it outrageous that he is now being called back from Beirut to vote in favour of something that he previously opposed?

Mr. MacAllion

My hon. Friend is correct. I am sure that taxpayers will be interested to know that the Government are spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money to bring back a Minister to Westminster to vote for a Bill that he considers to be rubbish.

Why has there been such a dramatic change in the Government's position? Could it be that in the aftermath of the horrific attack on young Rucksana Khan the Government suddenly realised that they were faced with a breed of dog that posed a threat that has been described by the Home Secretary as one of a different degree of seriousness from that presented to them hitherto? Has there been a sudden awakening on the part of those who occupy the Government Benches to the threat that is posed by the American pit bull terrier? I think not.

First, the Government were well warned—I played my part in the Adjournment debate to which I referred—that American pit bull terriers posed a serious threat to public safety in the United Kingdom. The Government knew at least two years ago that the breed had killed and killed again in the United States. They knew then that the Kennel Club had advised its members not to deal with and not to own examples of the breed. The Government knew that American pit bull terriers were bred to encourage fighting characteristics, to bring down even a horse and not to let go of the victim until they had killed it. They knew all that at least two years ago, but they chose to ignore the facts and to dismiss calls for bans and prohibitions to be placed on the breed.

The attack on young Rucksana Khan cannot be said to have come as a surprise to the Government. They knew well the potential of American pit bull terriers, and they cannot explain their sudden shift in attitude towards the ban that is set out in the Bill. It is not credible for Ministers to argue that the sheer ferocity of attacks in recent times has convinced them of the need to change their policy. No more ferocious attack has taken place in this country than that which occurred in my constituency more than two years ago. If there is a need for urgency and speed now, why was not there a similar move two years ago when my constituent was attacked?

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that it may have been in part because of his persuasive approach and the fact that he has applied himself assiduously to trying to deal with the problem—we all respect him for that—that the Government have introduced the Bill? Perhaps he should regard the introduction of the Bill as in part an achievement for himself.

Mr. McAllion

The hon. Gentleman entirely misunderstands the argument which I have advanced. The most persuasive arguments were presented by Mr. and Mrs. John Lynch, who made forceful representations for more than two years that action should be taken. It is unfortunate that they were ignored by Ministers.

Why has there been a change in the Government's attitude and why have they introduced the Bill? It is my judgment that the Bill reflects the relative strength of the Government two years ago and the relative weakness of their position today. Two years ago, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), was celebrating 10 years in office. The talk then was of 10 more years of Conservative Government. Two years ago, the poll tax had not even hit Scotland, never mind England and Wales. At that time the deep divisions within the Tory party over Europe had not really come to the surface. If I might borrow a phrase that was coined by another, two years ago the Government thought themselves to be unassailable.

In their arrogance, the Government dismissed demands for more controls to be placed on dangerous dogs. They did not think that the demands were worth bothering about. They used the opportunities that were presented by debates on the control of dangerous dogs to mock those of us who called for stricter legislation. They did not bother to listen to us. It is a different story now. Ministers have left the Government by the barrowload, including the former Prime Minister. The Government are trailing in the opinion polls and they have had first to postpone a June general election and then an October election because they knew that they would not be able to win either.

The Government are politically weak and they are vulnerable. It is from their position of weakness that they have been bounced into introducing the Bill because of the pressure mounted by the tabloid newspapers. In short, the Bill represents the Government's panic reaction. It will be pushed through the House in one day not because the Government are legislating for a real emergency in the real world but because they, a weak Administration, cannot guarantee the unequivocal support of Conservative Back-Benchers. That being so, they want to push through the Bill in one day, with the minimum of damage to themselves.

By any reasonable definition, the Bill is not good enough. It includes no provision for a national dog registration scheme. It does not provide for an adequate licence fee to fund appropriate wardens' schemes throughout the country. It ducks the issues of ownership of the breeds that it defines as presenting a serious danger to the public. Anyone will still be able to own any of the dogs in any sort of home environment once the Bill is on the statute book. The Bill does not seek to deal with back-street breeders who wish to sell especially dangerous dogs to all and sundry, including those who cannot possibly be considered as responsible owners. The Bill includes no provisions to bear on dangerous dogs that are used for criminal purposes, especially drug dealing.

However, a number of amendments and new clauses have been tabled and if they are carried, they will strengthen the Bill considerably. That being so, I shall support the Bill's Second Reading. I do so because it recognises that some breeds of dog cannot be classified as domestic pets, but should be banned in this country. I do so because it recognises other breeds of dogs that present a serious danger to the public and that require special measures to control them.

The Bill does not go anywhere near far enough, but in time that will come just as, in time, the Government will go and will be replaced by a Government who will treat the problem with the seriousness it deserves.

9.4 pm

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I listened to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) with a great deal of interest. He has a message for the House, but it was a pity that it was obscured by so much of what one might call politicking in criticising the Government and their reaction to a problem which has grown over the past few years.

No Government can instantly introduce laws until they are absolutely convinced that they are necessary for the well-being of the people. Creating new measures on the spur of the moment does not make for good law. This Bill is a result of a year or two's reflection on a concern which has grown in importance over that period.

I support the Bill, although I preferred my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's earlier proposal for, if one can use the word, a cull of pit bull terriers. That would have received widespread support. The newspapers, if one goes by what they said, were generally in favour of that treatment for that breed of dog. It cannot be considered a pet in any conceivable way. However, I accept that my right hon. Friend has reflected at length and that he has taken opinion from various sources and has therefore decided not to embark on such an extreme measure.

There are points that I should like clarified. The proposed treatment for pit bull terriers when they appear in a public place is to be welcomed. They will be muzzled and kept on a lead. That does not mean that they need to be muzzled in the home and that is my main fear. If such dogs are bred for violence—I do not think that anybody would dispute that—they are liable to turn on people. What are we doing to protect people in the households in which those dogs live? What would happen if the dogs were allowed into the garden and escaped? They would still be a danger if they got out. I am not sure that there are any proposals in the Bill that require owners to ensure that their gardens are secure if they keep such a dog at home. I should welcome further thoughts on that matter.

The definition of a public place, as in clause 3, is always notoriously difficult to devise. I remember that in the Road Traffic Bill, the law was changed to make dangerous driving an offence either on the public highway or in a public place. However, when it came to the definition of a public place, one could not be sure what was meant. I discovered that if the effects of the Bill had been carried through logically, it would have banned all international car rallying events through Forestry Commission roads. They are a public place by virtue of the fact that the public has access to them.

Although we tend to think of a public place as a recreation ground or a local authority park, what would happen if the owners of the dogs took them into the countryside, far away from what the owners considered to be a public place, and allow them to roam over fields? They are also public places because the public has access to them through the public's rights of way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to consider carefully whether a public place should include everywhere outside the domestic home so that there would be no doubt at all. To define "public place" in legal terms is very difficult indeed.

Reference has been made to the possible introduction of a dog registration scheme—something which we shall discuss in Committee. I am opposed to such a scheme because I cannot envisage its working effectively. In my constituency, I see rows upon rows of cars with out-of-date vehicle excise licences. There are also many people who do not have television licences. A great deal of time and energy are spent on the collection of television licence fees. The point is that if someone taxes his car, that does not mean that that car has been adequately maintained. If a dog registration scheme were introduced, that would not mean that the owner would look after his dog and ensure that it did not misbehave in a public place, whatever we mean by that.

There would also be enormous problems in policing such a scheme. The sort of people who do not have vehicle excise licences or television licences are the very people who would not go to the time and trouble of applying for a dog registration licence. If such a person decided that he no longer wanted his dog, he would simply remove the tag from around its neck and throw the dog out of the house or drive it into the countryside and release it.

The Bill will re-emphasise to the public that having a dog means taking responsibility for that dog's life. The Bill goes some considerable way towards warning people that it is a commitment that must not be taken lightly. The law can go only so far; it is for each owner to exercise his responsibility for the conduct of his dog.

I shall support the Bill because it goes a long way towards ensuring that there is greater accountability for the ownership and control of dogs.

9.11 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) that dogs and shotguns were equally dangerous. That was a considerable insult to shotguns. We can leave down a loaded gun, and it will not do anybody any harm. It can stay there for 100 years, and unless some fool or madman starts shooting people with it, it will do no one any harm.

The dogs with which the Bill is designed to deal are a different proposition because they have, at best, addled brains. They are highly mobile, very strong, and move of their own volition to attack anyone or anyting that comes within their vision. The hon. Member who referred to those shotguns should also have mentioned the ill-considered Firearms (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced shortly after the Hungerford massacre. That was another piece of legislation introduced in panic. It was ill-considered and it has achieved nothing.

Mr. Frank Cook

That Bill was also guillotined.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman was the Labour Whip on the Committee that considered that Bill. He will recall the long arguments in Committee and the wisdom that emerged as a result of them. The Government learned a lesson with that Bill, which is why this Bill is being rushed through in one day. There will be no time for rational discussion of the issues. It is ridiculous that such a serious matter should be dealt with in that way.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made a powerful speech. A child in his constituency was killed two years ago. There should have been a great deal of consideration during those two years, but there was not. That is proof positive that this is a rushed Bill, introduced in panic and designed to do only a little good. A great deal of will be felt by the law-abiding owners of the dogs that come within the scope of the Bill.

If I may be sarcastic, it seems to me that we are faced with the Bill because of Government dogma. They are unwilling to consider a dog licensing scheme. As we are all well aware, one part of the United Kingdom has a comprehensive dog licensing scheme under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983—Northern Ireland. Despite the Government's views, which were expressed when we last discussed the problem of dogs, that scheme has considerable support in Northern Ireland from those who deal with the licensing of dogs. It is one of the most welcome measures for Northern Ireland that the House has passed for many years.

Frankly, the dog licensing scheme in Northern Ireland works as well as the councils that are operating it make it work. It does not cost much money, except in places where it is not properly operated. One of the councils in my area, Coleraine, manages to make the scheme pay for itself. Ballymena council charges £5 a dog, and made a profit on one year.

No one would say that the scheme is perfect, but it has largely dealt with the evils for which it was intended, principally sheep worrying. Although in Northern Ireland the number of sheep has multiplied by three since the scheme came into operation, the number of sheep-worrying incidents has decreased. In my own council, Limavady, which had a large number of sheep-worrying incidents, there was only one incident last year and none the previous two or three years. That is a measure of the success of the scheme and of its capacity to control stray dogs, so it does work.

Although councils vary in their efficiency, in the amount of manpower they require and in the cost of the scheme, it is broadly a success. If the courts in Northern Ireland were more helpful by giving the penalties that the law allows, the scheme would be even more successful.

I do not want to take up too much time, because my points apply to Northern Ireland, but if the Government had simply reprinted that legislation with a few necessary amendments, they would have had a much better Bill. I never know how amendements are chosen for discussion in Committee, but my amendment was unfortunately not selected. If the Government had accepted my sensible amendment, and not extended the Bill to Northern Ireland—that flies in the face of the normal view of the Unionist party—but amended the Northern Ireland legislation, we would have been even further ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom.

My suggestions were quite simple. A person who did not hold, for the period of the dog's licence, insurance to cover any damage done by the dog should not be granted the licence. The Government believe in the market, so surely they should have no problem in accepting such a simply amendment or writing it into the Bill. If they did so, the dachshund, which is a small dog, would be in group 1—to use a motoring analogy—and the pit bull terrier would be in group 20. Not many people would be willing to pay the insurance costs. If they were, we might have to ask why they were prepared to do so.

I am essentially a farmer, and I believe that if a dog does not earn its keep, the owner should not keep it. I appreciate that people like to have dogs as pets; we have had pet dogs in my home. However, I stand by that principle: if a dog does not earn its keep, do not keep it. People who keep a dog should expect it to earn its keep if it is carrying a high level of insurance.

The second small change that I should like to see is for the district council—which is the licensing authority in Northern Ireland—to have the power to grant or to refuse a licence. If that power were exercised wisely and well, it would deal with the problem once and for all, because the council could react to local pressure. That would also cover the problem raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) in respect of high-rise flats. A council could exercise control in that regard as well. If we had followed that route, we would be in a much happier situation than we are this evening.

I hope that the Bill will prove to be purely temporary and that the United Kingdom will eventually catch up with the existing practice in Northern Ireland. I had hoped that I could improve on the legislation, but sadly that has not proved possible. However, hope springs eternal in the human breast, even in regard to dog registration, so with a wee bit of luck, we will be back here in another year or two, whoever may be in government, when we will perhaps have wiser counsels and better legislation.

9.20 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), and particularly to his remarks about insuring dogs according to their breed and to where they live. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) rightly highlighted the importance of clause 3 and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) emphasised the importance of enforcing tenancy rules. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give great consideration in her response to the points made by hon. Members in all parts of the House about common parts, which may include estate roads, and the corridors and stairwells of high-rise blocks such as those in my constituency.

Almost every hon. Member who owns a dog has confessed to it. I almost feel that we should extend the Register of Members' Interests to our pets. I admit to the ownership of a border terrier and shall watch with great interest the progress of the Bill tonight. Most of us in this country are dog lovers, although I detect the odd shake of the head from members of the Opposition Front Bench. I record also my interest in Battersea dogs home, which does so much for the welfare of strays and of dogs that have been ill-treated or abused by their owners.

I believe that right hon. and hon. Members faithfully represent the broad balance of views held by their constituents. That ranges from the school of thought that dogs can do no wrong to that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), which can be described as the incinerator tendency—those who exhibit real hostility towards dogs. In between, there are those who are irritated by dog fouling and concerned about the health risks that it creates, as well as the risk posed by dogs wandering the streets out of control. They are concerned also about the dangers that are created when dogs are kept in the wrong types of places.

I understand entirely when people get a large dog to protect themselves, but when they bring such an animal home to their high-rise flat and then allow it to run wild in the corridors, or allow it to become a latchkey dog, such people contribute to neurosis in a dog, which can lead to the dangers that concern us tonight.

There are also killer dogs. The Bill is concerned particularly with measures to control fighting dogs that are sadly and too frequently the killers not just of other dogs but of people. All dogs can be dangerous, and some often are. One or two breeds—the number may be higher—are not only trained but bred to be dangerous. The Bill goes the right way about dealing with those bred for that purpose—they are not the sort of dogs that should be kept as pets.

I have been involved in a number of animal issues in the House—none more important than the measures taken to stop dog fighting. When one prevents dog fighting one is conscious that the dogs may go somewhere else, and if they go into family ownership or are bred from they can contribute to the problems that we face.

Just about every animal welfare organisation agrees that fighting dogs should not be pets. They can turn into aggressive killers without warning—we have seen too many examples of that. It is right to phase them out, but it is also right to take the lesser option and deal with them by muzzling, by neutering and through the exemption and registration introduced in the Bill.

I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends—and, indeed, the lawyers of this country—well in seeking to define the breeds and types of dog covered by the Bill. No doubt they will be able to do it. I especially welcome the insurance measures.

I emphasise that, in taking the lesser step, we must also take the responsibility for doing so. If there should be a tragedy with an exempted dog it will be no good our turning round and saying that it is the Government's fault, that something more should have been done. We are advising the Government that we want the lesser step to be taken; I think that we are right to do so, but we must acknowledge that we are also taking the responsibility for that step.

The Bill also deals with other types of dog. Other breeds can be dangerous—sometimes because of overbreeding or inbreeding, sometimes because of their ownership. The insurance route is the right way forward, because the actuarial calculations will be made by insurance companies. If they deem somebody not to be a fit and proper person to own or control a dog, or if they consider somebody's home not to be a fit and proper place for that dog to live, they will either refuse insurance cover or make it so expensive that it will be almost impossible for the person in question to take out insurance.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary included insurance as an element in the list of requirements that he will introduce by regulation—with which I entirely concur. But I did not hear him say that there would be marking of the dog, a collar tag or something similar so that the public, the police and other authorities could easily see that insurance had been taken out. That is an important consideration and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will deal with it when she replies to the debate.

The debate will soon move on to the question of registration schemes. I make no secret of the fact that I have always supported registration schemes. Indeed, in the days when such things were possible, my first revolt in the House, when I went into the other Lobby, was when I supported the measure to retain dog licences. I favoured registration for two reasons. The first was that registration serves a purpose in rescuing strays. I still believe that. Battersea dogs home runs a voluntary scheme whereby a chip is implanted in the scruff of the dog's neck, giving a unique number that can be screened in police stations to identify the dog's owner. Perhaps we could encourage that practice through voluntary schemes.

The other consideration is owner control—the control of owners who act irresponsibly in charge of dogs. On that matter, I believe that we are heading in the right direction. Whatever we like to call it, we are heading down the route of compulsory insurance for dogs. We are starting with fighting dogs, but I believe that we will continue with dangerous dogs and then it will be a short step before we bring it in for other dogs.

All dogs can be dangerous and some often are. We are going for the "often-are's" and shortly I believe that the Government will be persuaded to go for the "also-can-be's". Before we get there, we will have achieved precisely that responsible dog ownership that we are seeking, through the insurance route, which will be in the best interests of dogs and their owners.

I support the Bill and I urge that we eventually extend the insurance requirement, because this nation can be judged by the way in which it deals with its pets, especially dogs. The Bill will be good for people and good for dogs, and I commend it.

9.30 pm
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I shall be brief. When the debates on the Bill started today, I had no intention of voting in the No Lobby against the timetable. However, I have heard a number of speeches, one or two of which certainly lacked clarity, in which preposterous comments were made. However, because of the lack of clarity, I cannot ascertain exactly what was said until Hansard appears and it will not appear until after the Bill has completed its passage.

That problem was again demonstrated during the Home Secretary's speech, when he appeared to select brindle Staffordshire bull terriers for attention. Perhaps the Home Secretary is not aware that there are a variety of colours within that breed and that his comments will cause some anxiety among those who fancy pedigree dogs, especially Staffordshire bull terriers, because he appeared to like brindle Staffordshire bull terriers but not others. It is rather sad that in a matter that affects the burning interests of many thousands of people—the Staffordshire bull terrier is one of the most popular breeds in Britain—the Home Secretary's lack of preparedness should cause him to give anxiety.

Because of the atmosphere of rush and panic, a number of hon. Members who are interested in dogs are increasingly concerned. After all, the Home Secretary criticised a Labour Government for not banning American pit bull terriers in the 1970s. However, at that time it was only surmised that they would be coming here to be used for fighting, which did not develop until the early 1980s. As I said in an intervention on the Leader of the House, I asked the Government to ban the import of American pit bull terriers in the early 1980s, because evidence was clearly available to show that they were being used for the very sordid practice of dog fighting, to which a number of hon. Members have referred.

The Government refused and I urged them that if they were not prepared to ban the import of American pit bull terriers, they should at least have the decency to assist animal welfare organisations, especially those that have an investigative role such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, by informing them of the names and addresses of people who were importing the dogs. Make no mistake, people who were importing American pit bull terriers at the beginning and in the middle of the 1980s were almost invariably serving dog fighting.

Once again the Government refused because that clashed with their philosophy, which is to sweep away regulations and leave everything to the individual, to the free market, to freedom and liberty. The result of that careless, lackadaisical and utterly irresponsible approach is the panic stations represented by a Bill of this type.

I do not want to take a long time but one or two matters need to be mentioned. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would first clarify the issue that I mentioned regarding Staffordshire bull terriers before people start having them neutered all around the country. Secondly, there is the question of clause 4. It is already unsatisfactory that people who are not fit to have dogs, who abuse them and are found guilty of relevant offences in court may not be banned from keeping a dog. That is provided by clause 4.

However, sometimes other people in the same household should be banned from keeping a dog. When the police arrive at the home of the chap who has obtained a pit bull terrier for unsavoury reasons, he will say that it is his wife's, his partner's, his son's or his mother or father's. They will be banned from keeping a dog, but he will not. There has been too much of such evasion, so we must ensure that the verdict of the court is accompanied by bans that mean something and by a household ban where necessary.

The Government have been foolish in saying that the Bill will not come into effect until 30 November. I estimate that a significant proportion of at least 45 per cent. of pit bull terrier bitches in Britain—that is 45 per cent. of the total, as bitches come into season twice a year—wilt be mated within the next two or three months to produce litters suitably matched to dogs of other breeds. That will allow people who practice this so-called sport of fighting to evade the requirement in the Bill.

Banning pit bull terriers will be of little use if cross-breeds from American pit bull terriers are to be used. The Government are giving the dog-fighting fraternity the latitude offered by the time arrangements of the Bill. That is another example of the incompetence and stupidity with which they have handled the matter in the past decade.

9.36 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

We all know how much people in the United Kingdom love pets. Nowhere is the British love of animals more demonstrated that in our continuing affection for dogs and cats.

It is a correct belief that dogs and cats are good for us—people in hospital who have pets with them are known to recover more quickly, their blood pressure lowers, they are happier and calmer and they recover more quickly. We are all aware of the quiet companionship that a pet offers someone who lives alone. A mentally handicapped child is stimulated and made happier by a pet. Someone who is dying is made happier by the company of an animal. We are right to love our pets and they repay us a thousandfold.

Most people look after their pets—often better than they look after themselves—and give them the finest food. I have often thought that pearls before swine was surely the description of an early porcine hors d'oeuvre. Cats dine delicately on boneless salmon, while their owners masticate on mackerel.

But there is another breed of people who seek and obtain another kind of household animal—one bred not to divert but to destroy and not to defend but to go to war. The owners are at fault, but so often their animals must suffer.

The Bill is necessary, but I am sad that we must have a Bill to control household pets. It is a great dishonour on ourselves as human beings that we are not able to choose and care for animals that are good for society rather than a negative element. Yet in my constituency and in many other parts of the United Kingdom, owners have chosen and breed dogs to hurt their neighbours. I have a folder full of such examples just from my constituency.

Where I differ with the Opposition, who have expressed similar concern for animals, is over their grave disservice to the House of suggesting that a register is the perfect way forward. Surely, we do not want unnecessary bureaucracy. A national registration scheme would have to cater for 7 million dogs and would cost about £42 million a year, financed by fees. In Belfast, fewer than 50 per cent. of owners have complied with such a scheme.

There is a concept known as risks management which involves the identification of risks. Are we to go overboard and pretend that there are risks related to dogs? Could not the £42 million be better spent on children, the elderly, the handicapped and the sick? In our love for animals and our overwhelming desire for animals to be well cared for, let us not be too silly. We should consider that people matter, too.

The national budget is, of necessity, finite. The register, such as it is, must be kept to the minimum so that it costs the minimum to maintain and obtains maximum compliance from owners. I support the Bill.

9.42 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I hope that the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) and the House will forgive me if I do not comment on all that has been said, but I lack the time to do so.

Opposition Members tried to castigate us for—[HON. MEMBERS: "Government Members."] I am sorry, I meant Government Members—I was anticipating events.

Government Members complained that we criticised the Home Secretary for listening and responding. We were doing nothing of the kind, but were saying that it was a pity that he did not do so before he spoke on 22 May. Our complaint was that he spoke first and thought afterwards. The problem with the Home Secretary is that he is never there when the consequences of what he has planned come about. We fear that his rush to legislate will leave problems for his successor.

The Home Secretary himself mentioned the Sunday People, so instead of making up what Mr. Mandelson said yesterday, I shall reflect on what the Home Secretary said. In 1981, when he was a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, the Home Secretary regaled the House with the promise that the country would be cabled by 1990. To give him credit, he was the first Minister to see the promise, potential and need for the most modern communication system. It was not introduced, but by then he had gone.

The right hon. Gentleman then went to the Department of the Environment, where he is credited with persuading the then Prime Minister that the poll tax was the best replacement for the rates—that was also mentioned in the Sunday People. We all know where that expensive farce ended, but no matter, the right hon. Gentleman had yet again vanished.

The right hon. Gentleman reappeared as Secretary of State for Education and Science to lay the groundwork for what as laughingly known as educational reform, but by the time its consequences hit classroom and teachers, he had vanished. He had legged it to become chairman of the Conservative party. We all remember his clarion call at last year's Conservative party conference: Let him who has no stomach for the fight depart. The Chancellor, the deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House all did so and then, lo and behold, the Prime Minister herself did.

As Robert Harris said in yesterday's Sunday Times: after talking tough about pit hull terriers for a week or two, our Kenneth has suddenly dropped his bag of toffees and is sprinting for the schoolyard gate as fast as his little legs will carry him. 'It's typical of Ken,' one Tory MP was quoted as saying last week, 'he never finishes anything he starts. That is the right hon. Gentleman's track record; now let us consider his record in relation to dogs. When we consider the brilliant record that the right hon. Gentleman brings with him to the Bill, how can we have any confidence that the Home Secretary, in his latest and perhaps his last Government job, has it right now?

As late as last October, the Government were telling us that nothing more needed to be done in relation to dog control, and that we certainly did not need a national dog registration scheme. They said that the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, which made it an offence to have an unmuzzled, ferocious dog at large in a street, park or open public place was enough to deal with the problem, as the figures showed.

There were 80 prosecutions in 1988, of which 43 succeeded. That shows that the 1847 Act did not quite solve the problem, but a year later there were 93 prosecutions, of which 60 succeeded. Therefore, as the Government then argued, the 1847 Act provided the solution to the problem, and they said that if that did not work there was always the Animals Act 1971, which allows prosecution for injury or damage caused by dogs in England and Wales. I should like to be able to tell the House how that worked out, but I cannot, because the Home Office does not collect information centrally on those civil offences.

A month ago, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister claimed that all was well and that there was no need for a change in the law. That song has been sung from the Dispatch Box for at least the past two years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) reminded the House tonight, the then Home Office Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and derided a call by my hon. Friend that specific action should be taken against American pit bull terriers. The Minister asked: When does an American pit bull terrier cease to be an American pit bull terrier? A dog with one American pit bull terrier parent is partly an American pit bull terrier. However, would it fit that definition for the purposes of prohibition orders?"—[Official Report, 15 June 1989; Vol. 155, c. 1188.] That is why we have so little faith in the Home Secretary who is panicking legislation through the House tonight.

Then things changed—

Mr. Devlin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Corbett


Then things changed. Clark Kent, also known as the Prime Minister, decided that there was enough public concern for him to be decisive and to take action. On 21 May, he signalled from the Dispatch Box that stern action would be taken, at last, to control dogs. On 22 May, the Home Secretary announced from the Dispatch Box, "death to all pit bull terriers", and he was backed by the Prime Minister. As the days passed, the pit bull terrier that the Home Secretary mimicked on 22 May became the Pluto of today. He now says that the pit bull terriers need not die, but that the Government will try to price them into an early grave by making the charges for exemption certificates, neutering and registration as high as possible, with a minimum of £150 an animal. I know that the Home Secretary does not like to be reminded of the fact that he stood at the Dispatch Box on 22 May growling about putting down 10,000 pit bull terriers. Within days, he had changed his mind and backed away.

I hope that the Minister of State will, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked earlier, at least share with the House the process by which it was decided not to include rottweilers in the special categories. It is estimated that there are 10,000 pit bull terriers in the country compared with 100,000 rottweilers, 100,000 doberman pinschers, 100,000 Staffordshire bull terriers and about 250,000 German shepherd dogs. Will the Minister share with the House the details of the decision-making that enables the Home Secretary and his advisers to make a distinction between a dog that is born for fighting and a dog that is bred for aggressiveness? The Home Secretary has not persuaded the House about that distinction. There is virtually no distinction between bred for fighting and bred for aggressiveness.

I want to echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and others, with which the Home Secretary had some sympathy when he was kind enough to allow an intervention from me. My hon. Friend referred to dangerous dogs in tower blocks, in maisonettes and in back gardens—in other words, not in what one would normally understand to be public places.

The Post Office has told me of a 56-year-old woman whose right ear was torn off when three Alsatians attacked her in the driveway of a private house. She suffered other bites to the head, arms and legs, and underwent emergency surgery. Under the Bill, such an incident would not be caught under the definition of public places.

In my constituency, there are several families whose lives, children and cats are terrorised by a rottweiler living down the road which constantly leaps over—[Laughter.] That is no laughing matter. It leaps over the garden fence and as recently as last weekend, a cat had to be attended by a veterinarian and there was an £80 bill[Laughter] Is that a laughing matter? I hope that Hansard will record those who are laughing.

Can the Minister assure the House that when the police seek a warrant under the powers in clause 3, they will be able to call on the services of RSPCA inspectors and of trained and equipped dog wardens or veterinarians? It cannot be expectable to accept an ordinary beat police officer to attend to a dangerous dog in answer to a summons. Even police officers who have been trained in dog handling are not experienced in handling dangerous dogs that are out of control.

When the Minister of State replies, I hope that she will confirm that the Government will consider seriously the proposition in new clause 3 that people who are injured by dangerous dogs whose owners cannot be traced or identified should be able to make a claim for damages to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. The Minister of State will be aware that that issue has gone to judicial review because the board has claimed that it does not have such powers at the moment.

Will the Minister of State also confirm that no genetic test is available at the moment to determine absolutely the make-up of a dog? I am advised that it will take up to eight years to produce such a test. How will those people responsible for making decisions about the exemptions reach their conclusions?

It is regrettable that this debate has not been-about encouraging responsible dog ownership. The vast majority of people who own dogs are responsible and accept the obligations of such ownership to ensure the enforceable control that a modern society requires. The Bill goes some way towards that and that is why we shall support it. However, it will take a Labour Government to do the job properly.

9.50 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

Apart from the last rather deplorable contribution of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), we have had a helpful and positive debate this evening. In the time available, I will do my best to respond to the many points that have been made.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) for his contribution. I differ from his views in one respect. We believe that the Bill relates to pit bull terriers and those dangerous dogs that are bred for fighting and that cannot at any stage be considered to be safe irrespective of whether they have been friendly in the past.

We are grateful for the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield had reservations about the Bill as he wanted a cull of dogs. Had we had such a cull of dogs, I suspect that the press would have created much fuss and there would have been many clarion calls and all sorts of things written about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Battersea dogs home is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), and we welcome his support for the Bill. I will respond to his point about the common parts of flats and stairways, and we shall be including either tattooing or tagging.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) made helpful points about the costs of a registration scheme. We were also grateful for the helpful and supportive comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and for the remarks of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). I confirm that we are engaged in consultations with the Association of British Insurers about the form of insurance that we will introduce.

I know that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) is concerned about the Lynch family. As a good constituency Member, he has supported that family for some years since the sad death of Kelly Lynch. I understand his points and extend my sympathy to Kelly's parents. I hope that the Bill and the hon. Gentleman's support of it will go some way towards rewarding his constant work for those parents.

In response to the hon. Member for Londonderry, (Mr. Ross), I can state that we have considered the Northern Ireland registration scheme. However, we note with interest that that scheme still commands only 50 per cent. support from the people of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) need not worry about Staffordshire bull terriers. I shall refer to clause 4 in a moment. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the date of the introduction of the Bill allowing puppies to be bred. As from 31 July, when the legislation will be on the statute book, it will be an offence for dogs to have puppies, and such puppies will be caught by all clauses of the Bill. [Interruption.] I refer not to all dogs, but to banned or dangerous dogs.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) wanted me to answer a number of points. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in the response—

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Minister of State give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

I cannot give way, because I have other questions to answer.

On the support of veterinary associations, of course it is not for me to commit parliamentary support of organisations such as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA. However, I can tell the House that those bodies have welcomed the principle of the Bill to rid the country of pit bull terriers and fighting dogs and also the controls that my right hon. Friend is proposing to apply to exempted dogs—that is, neutering, permanent marking and compulsory insurance. All those matters have been supported.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the security of conditions in which pit bull terriers are kept. It is unnecessary to define or set out the security of conditions in which clause 1 dogs should be kept. The Bill does that. If a clause 1 dog were to escape, the owner would be subject to criminal proceedings. Anyone who risks his clause 1 dog escaping is courting the same severe penalties, including imprisonment. It is his responsibility to ensure that the dog is secure.

On the point about compulsory insurance, I have been asked whether it should be a requirement for all dogs to be covered by third party insurance. All dog owners are liable under the Animals Act 1971 for any damage that their pets may cause. They are therefore recommended to protect themselves and their neighbours with third party insurance. Because of the particular risks that fighting dogs represent, we are requiring the owners of such dogs that have been exempted to prove that they are covered in that exemption.

A register will simply record that a dog exists. A certificate of exemption records that certain action has been taken over a pit bull terrier—that is, that the dog has been neutered, marked permanently and is covered by insurance. Those are very good safeguards.

I was grateful to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) because it was extremely supportive, particularly his affirmation that the Police Federation is completely behind my right hon. Friend's Bill. My hon. Friend asked about clause 4 dogs. There is no power in the Bill to include German shepherds in clause 1, as they are not fighting dogs. If there is a need to take action against other breeds of dogs, it will be under clause 2 where there are, quite properly, less restrictive controls. On my hon. Friend's point about strays, the term "stray" is used in section 149 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It is a common term which apparently requires no definition.

On his point about aggravated offences, and the police, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge asked whether there will be a problem in establishing whether an offence was aggravated. That should not be a problem, as clause 3(1) clearly defines that an aggravated offence is committed when a dog that is out of control causes injury. That should be a simple matter of evidence.

I appreciate the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge about the costs of having dogs destroyed. That is why clauses 4(4)(b) and 4(5) contain provisions to recover costs. That is by a well-tried drafting formula and we hope that it will be thoroughly effective.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) for his helpful and supportive points. He asked whether minors should be allowed to be in charge of clause 1 dogs. We are considering the conditions that should apply to certificates of exemption and we shall bear my hon. Friend's points in mind. We have already anticipated that point in clause 3(2), which places an onus on a dog owner to ensure that it is in the charge of a responsible person. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has other points on which the Government are not likely to be quite so helpful, but that debate will occur later.

The hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) referred to puppy farms. Home Office Ministers have always said that they support measures to end puppy farm abuses. I expect an announcement to be made shortly about the introduction of such a measure. I acknowledge, too, the other points made by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) referred to the definition of a public place. Clause 8(2) covers all places to which the public have unrestricted access. They include many common areas in and around tower blocks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) mentioned. Therefore, the criminal offence in clause 3 does not apply to anything that happens in back gardens, which are private places.

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to the Order this day.

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Boswell.]

Further proceedings postponed, pursuant to the Order this day.