HC Deb 10 June 1991 vol 192 cc700-4

Queen's Recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Dangerous Dogs Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of that Act. —Mr. Boswell.]

10 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

When I opposed the timetable motion, I made it clear that I supported the overall objectives of the Bill but that I very much deplored the way in which it was being rushed through the House. [Interruption.] It appears that we are in the midst of a convention of small order waiters. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are now under the guillotine. However, he has a perfect right to make a speech on the money resolution.

Mr. Banks

The more I listened to the Second Reading debate the more I realised that the House is making a grave error in rushing the Bill through. There are so many unanswered questions. I am certain that other unanswered questions will arise out of the money resolution.

The Secretary of State referred to the compensation for which the money resolution provides the wherewithal. It provides compensation for those owners of pit bull terriers and any other designated owners who have their dogs put down. I understand that it is £50—£25 for the cost of having the dog put down and £25 to compensate owners for the loss of the dog. Many dog owners would consider that £25 compensation was tantamount to an insult, given that they might very much love their dog but might not be able to afford—if they decided not to have their dog put down—all the other costs arising out of neutering, registration and the other matters to which the Secretary of State referred. Those matters and proposals are supported by all responsible dog owners, as well as by the Opposition and the animal welfare organisations.

The Secretary of State is prepared to provide compensation for those owners who decide to have their dogs put down and to give a small sum of money to those who thereby lose their dogs, but it is very cruel that he is not prepared to give anything to those who might wish to go along with the legislation, because they are responsible owners, but who are unable to afford all the veterinary and registration costs that are tied up with this legislation.

The Secretary of State is not encouraging responsible dog ownership. Those who are prepared to have their dogs put down and to take £25 do not, I believe, fall into the category of responsible dog owners. Responsible pit bull terrier owners will be those who are in the terrible dilemma of wanting to go along with the legislation but who cannot afford the various costs.

The Secretary of State must accept that this is retrospective legislation. When these people bought their pit bull terriers, none of the illegalities that will arise from 31 July onwards was on the statute book. Those people will be penalised. This is retrospective legislation. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State should reconsider this matter. We cannot do it now, but if we had had a proper Committee stage, these matters could have been thoroughly considered. Proper amendments could have been tabled in Committee. These issues could have been raised, and perhaps we would have found out the costs involved. I do not know what the costs are. The Home Secretary does not know. I do not believe that anyone can accurately say how many pit bull terriers there are. However many there are, it will be difficult to find them because people will keep them behind doors, undetected, as long as possible. With a Committee stage, we could have found out about all those matters.

On the face of it, it seems that a large part of the costs will fall on responsible dog owners. They want to go along with the Bill's terms but cannot afford to do so. They will be given a cruel choice. I hope that, in responding to the debate on the money resolution, the Home Secretary will say that he will at least consider introducing—perhaps in another place—a scheme that allows an element of compensation to be paid to those responsible dog owners who want to go along with the legislation but, unfortunately, cannot afford to do so. Those owners will be left with the dilemma of either disobeying the law or having their animal put down.

10.5 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The explanatory and financial memorandum states: expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Bill shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament. I wish to speak on the money resolution because there will probably be changes to the Bill that bring costs on the taxpayer. I did not have an opportunity to speak on Second Reading, but I make no complaint about that because my points deal directly with the prospect of costs.

Twenty-odd years ago, my youngest daughter, who is a pretty and attractive girl, was on a camp site near the Wirral in Cheshire. She was attacked by a large, savage dog and sustained serious injuries. Thankfully, because of the skilled medical treatment which she received, today she is an attractive young lady. I assure the House that, at that time, my wife and I and other members of my family were very worried. To this day, I still remember with horror my feelings when taking her to hospital, because of her appalling condition.

I believed then, and I believe now, that registration and all the other provisions that may or may not emerge from the Bill would not have had any impact on those events. The dog was tethered on a long lead. My youngest daughter, like other members of the family, was fond of animals. Not realising the hazard and the horror, the child did what many children do and went towards the dog, which attacked her.

Some of the speeches made earlier, particularly on the Bill's financial implications, were pertinent to those circumstances. We want to ensure that we deal with the problem of dogs that have savaged and attacked people. The Bill in its present form deals substantially with that matter. It lays down a framework to deal with incidents of the kind that I described, which brought terrible horror to my family and me. I commend the Government for introducing the Bill.

On the money resolution, no one has mentioned in detail the fact that children may recover from physical injuries, but what of the mental injuries that may remain? At the time of that incident, my wife and I wanted to do something. It cost money—that is the point that I wanted to make. Today, we have a large dog at home, which is the property of my youngest daughter. It has all the equipment that could do damage to people. However, we were determined, that our children should not be afraid of dogs because of our experience and that has involved certain costs.

We should be careful to ensure that the Government and the public purse do not end up accepting responsibility that really belongs to the owners of the dogs concerned. That is why an insurance scheme is probably the most important element of the Bill. I am sorry that I have detained the House, which probably wants to move on to other things, but we have listened—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that the House—like myself—is concerned that this sounds more like a Second Reading speech than one on a money resolution.

Mr. Walker

But I am talking about money, Mr. Speaker, and about why I felt that it was important—

Mr. Speaker

The money resolution deals with compensation.

Mr. Walker

As I read it, Mr. Speaker, the money resolution refers to the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of that Act.

I am quoting the Bill exactly, Mr. Speaker, because I am a simple chap and think that that wording could be open-ended. I am trying to warn the House: we do not want the public purse to have to pick up costs that properly and rightly are the responsiblity of the owners of the dogs that inflict the damage. It is vital that the House considers that point before moving on to the next stage.

10.11 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall detain the House for only a moment but, as the House knows, I have spoken on many money resolutions and feel that this one is couched in rather broad terms. I should like the Minister to confirm that the money resolution would enable the Secretary of State to expend money on the introduction of a dog registration scheme if that is the way in which the Bill is subsequently amended, as I hope it will be.

It is estimated that the passage of the Bill would result in increased expenditure of £250,000—I think that that is rather a low estimate—and that the rest of the Bill will be self-financing because of the licensing scheme. However, the money resolution is broad enough to suggest that, if one or both of the new clauses is passed and a dog registration scheme established, a further money resolution will not be necessary. I draw the House's attention to the difficulties of not providing adequate time for considering the legislation. Previously, for example, even Home Office Ministers have found in Committee that the money resolutions that were passed earlier were insufficient.

Will the Minister also confirm that the money resolution will enable the Secretary of State to spend money on establishing an insurance scheme, which I believe is a vital component of the legislation? My information is that the insurance companies will be extremely reluctant to embark on any insurance scheme for pit bull terriers, which may be exempted from being put down. The Government may have to investigate using public funds to promote such a scheme. Can the money resolution, as presently drafted, provide for that?

I very much hope that the House is not delayed for too long on the money resolution and that we can ensure that the dog registration scheme, which is a fundamental component of any system to ensure proper dog ownership and control, is passed and that the Secretary of State will have the necessary powers, through the money resolution and the Bill when it is enacted, to implement it.

10.14 pm
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Before the House passes the money resolution, it should be told how the figure of £0.25 million was arrived at. We are shortly to consider a new clause that would extend a dog registration scheme to all types of dog and the Government will undoubtedly argue that one of the main reasons why we cannot have such a scheme is that it would cost a certain amount of money. The Bill provides for a registration scheme for two breeds, and undoubtedly that will cost some money. I should like to know how much it is likely to cost and whether it is proposed that the cost will be recovered from registration fees.

We are told in the explanatory and financial memorandum that it is expected that the financial effects of the Bill will be recovered from fees charged to those whose dogs are excepted. We should be told how much the overall scheme is supposed to cost and how much is intended to be recovered by way of fees charged to those whose dogs are excepted, so that when we consider a general registration scheme we can re-examine the figures.

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

The House has endorsed the principle of the Bill, and it is now being asked to will the means. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) asked me two specific questions, and the answer to both of them is yes. I think that that will save him from further concern.

I can tell my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) that the costs of the compensation and destruction provisions are likely to be within about £250,000. He will appreciate the difficulties of estimating total expenditure in an area where other costs may be involved later. I think that I have given the House the figure that he was hoping that I would put before it.

I have noted the experience of the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). I am glad to hear that she has entirely recovered from it and is an attractive young woman, and that she owns a dog. My hon. Friend's contribution restores our confidence that people can have unhappy experiences yet still enjoy the benefits of being a dog owner. I entirely agree with him that the insurance scheme that is referred to in the Bill will answer many of the problems that he had to face when his daughter suffered such an unfortunate accident.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) spoke with great passion about the problems that are faced by those who do not wish to have their dogs destroyed and wish to retain them. We believe that some of the animal associations are willing to come to the assistance of those who may have to incur expenditure on neutering, for example. But the intentions that lie behind the Bill are clear and the dogs that are defined in clause I—pit bull terriers, the tosa dog of Japan and the bandog—are those that we do not wish to have remaining in our society. They are types of dog—not breeds—that we wish to see eliminated from it.

We did not wish to go down the road of destruction of these dogs because there are a number of people who come within the category to which the hon. Gentleman referred. They are the sort of people who will try their best to comply with the exemptions that we have provided. I say of necessity, however, that these exemptions must be tough. If we introduced soft exemptions, certain owners of dogs that we want to try to eliminate from our society would find ways of keeping their dogs in our society. For the many reasons that have been given on Second Reading—

Mr. Tony Banks

I did not argue that exemptions should be soft or that owners should be allowed to get round them. I was arguing the contrary point of view. I was saying that many people who want to comply with the terms of the Bill, or the Act as it will be, will not be able to afford to pay. Surely the Government must accept that, when those people got hold of their dogs, the Bill Was not even being contemplated. To ask responsible dog owners to meet the cost in full is a good example of retrospective legislation. That seems wrong, and the Government should be prepared to offer compensation to those owners as well.

Mrs. Rumbold

Very few people would have acquired American pit bull terriers without understanding that they are potentially exceedingly dangerous animals. We are operating within the limitations of the exemption scheme, but some animal welfare organisations my be willing to offer assistance to those who genuinely wish to retain their dogs and to comply with every one of the measures necessary to obtain a certification of exemption.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to insist that the Bill is most important for the elimination of those species from our society. They are too dangerous, and genuinely responsible people would not wish to fly in the face of the dangers that such dogs might provide if they were retained. If owners feel so strongly, I am sure that someone will come to their assistance. I do not believe that that is part of the Government's task and any number of amendments in Committee will not necessarily change the Government's mind.

The Bill is clear, and I hope that it will satisfy the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Dangerous Dogs Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of that Act.