HC Deb 22 March 1996 vol 274 cc611-51 9.36 am
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, leave out 'and (3)' and insert `to (3A)'.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 19, in page 1, line 8, after 'alongside', insert—

  • '(a) a bridleway or public footpath, or
  • (b) `.

No. 2, in page 1, line 9, leave out first 'road' and insert `highway which comprises a carriageway'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 9, leave out second 'road' and insert 'carriageway'.

No. 20, in page 1, line 10, leave out '40' and insert '30'.

No. 11, in page 1, leave out lines 11 to 18 and insert— '(3) This Act does not apply to land used for agriculture'.

No. 4, in page 1, leave out line 14.

No. 12, in page 1, line 14, at end insert— `( ) land primarily used for sporting purposes;'.

No. 22, in page 1, line 14, at end insert— `( ) land at the seaside between the low water and high water marks;'.

No. 5, in page 1, line 15, after 'predominantly', insert `marshland,'.

No. 6, in page 1, line 18, at end insert— '(3A) Where a private Act confers powers for the regulation of any land, the person entitled to exercise those powers may, by notice in writing given to the local authority in whose area the land is situated, exclude the application of this Act to that land.'

No. 7, in page 1, line 26, at end insert— ' "carriageway" has the same meaning as in the Highways Act 1980;'.

No. 13, in page 1, leave out lines 27 and 28.

No. 8, in page 2, leave out line 3.

Mr. Hunter

A plethora of amendments have been grouped together—14 in all, eight of which are tabled in my name. I think it would be convenient if I grouped the amendments in my name into four distinct headings. I shall first, of course, deal with amendment No. 1, with which I shall take amendment No. 6.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 6 seek to provide that, where land is regulated under powers that have been conferred by a private Act of Parliament, the person, institution, organisation or company exercising those powers can exclude the application of the Bill's provisions to that land. The point is that that would allow any byelaws made under the private Act to continue, which may be particularly desirable to ensure consistency of approach where the land regulated by the private Act covers more than one local authority area.

The appearance of these amendments owes much to the positive input of Mr. Paul Double, Assistant City Remembrancer, City of London, to whom I express my thanks.

I am sure that hon. Members are aware that my Bill seeks to provide local authorities with the ability, subject to certain exemptions, to designate poop-scoop zones—land which is open to the air and to which the public have access. The exceptions are set out in clause 1, and have the effect that local authorities will not be able to so designate public land in the open countryside.

The Bill is designed to deal with the problem of dog fouling where the problem is greatest: paths, pavements, parks, recreational grounds and other public areas of villages, towns and cities.

Local authority designations under the Bill will supersede dog fouling byelaws on lands to which the Bill applies.

Here comes the relevance of amendments Nos. 1 and 6: I am aware that there are instances in which land is regulated by a private Act of Parliament and in which Parliament has given the person, company, organisation or institution regulating the land the ability to make byelaws.

For example, a private Act of Parliament has allowed utility companies, especially water companies, to regulate land. A number of local authorities have similar powers, particularly the City of London. The byelaws that those people, institutions, companies or organisations can make include, of course, those on dog fouling. As the Bill stands, a local authority can designate such land, and the existing byelaws could stand by virtue of clause 6(4), but no one could be prosecuted under those byelaws where a designation under the Bill is in force. The byelaws effectively go into suspended animation.

It seems only right that the regulators of land by private Act of Parliament should be able to decide whether they wish their land to be subject to the provisions of the Bill, and potential designation by local authorities, or whether they wish their byelaws to continue to have effect. We are dealing with circumstances different from those governing privately owned land, where Parliament has not given a person, institution, company or organisation regulating that land the ability to make byelaws. In the latter case, the Bill protects the private landowners' interests under subsections (3) and (5) of clause 1. That would allow the private landowner to render a designation ineffective if he so wished, by allowing him to consent to dog owners failing to clear up after their dogs.

The amendment is appropriate for a further reason. There are cases in which land regulated by private Act of Parliament lies in more than one local authority area.

Hampstead heath, for example, is regulated by the City of London according to private Act of Parliament, but the land lies in three different London boroughs. Wimbledon common and Putney heath lie in two different London boroughs, but each has its own regulating authority by virtue of a private Act of Parliament. One local authority may wish to designate its part of Hampstead heath, Wimbledon common or Putney heath as a poop-scoop zone. The other regulating local authority, however, may decide not to do so.

To put it mildly, such a hypothetical example could cause considerable enforcement problems. The regulators of the land might well conclude that the retention of their byelaws is by far the best option. To put it simply, amendments Nos. 1 and 6 allow the regulators of the land to take into account such factors when deciding whether the Bill's provisions should have effect on their land. That is the gist of the amendments, which I commend to the House.

The second sub-group of amendments—Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8—address a potential loophole in the Bill that came to light after Committee stage. The amendments would ensure the inclusion of footways and footpaths that are not subject to any speed limits for the obvious reason that no traffic travels on them. Such footways and footpaths are among the most popular walks for dog owners and non-dog owners alike, because no traffic is allowed on them. Without the amendments, however, in certain circumstances they would not be designated. That would be absurd; hence the need for the amendments.

Currently the Bill excludes roads with a speed limit of 40 mph or less, for safety reasons. It is my intention to remove from the Bill all high-speed roads where it could obviously be dangerous to clear up after a dog. That is the sensible way to proceed.

The difficulty that came to light after Committee is that the Bill, as originally drafted, relies upon the definition of a road as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. That Act states that a road means any length of highway or any other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes". 9.45 am

The problem is that that definition extends to footpaths and footways, whether or not they are beside carriageways. Since driving is banned on those pathways, there is no reason for a speed limit to be set; therefore, the provisions of the Bill, as originally drafted, could not be applied to them—even if they were surrounded by a built-up area with speed restrictions on all roads.

It would clearly be entirely unacceptable if some of the most popular walking routes for dog owners and non-owners alike could not be designated poop-scoop zones. The amendments are therefore designed to replace the definition from the 1984 Act cited in the Bill with that in the Highways Act 1980, in particular the latter's use of the term "carriageway" to indicate vehicular use. The amendments deliver my original intention.

Under amendment No. 2, the exclusion relates to land comprised in or running alongside a highway, which is carriageway. The other three amendments are consequential upon that. I have no doubt that, without those amendments, the Bill would lose most of its value.

Amendment No. 4 would remove the exclusion of all national park land, and some explanation is called for. As I have previously explained, my Bill has the simple and single objective of enabling local authorities to deal more effectively with the unpleasant, anti-social and health risk problem of dog fouling where that problem is greatest—on the paths, pavements, parks, recreational grounds and so on of our villages, towns and cities.

The problem does not exist to the same extent in open countryside, where there is greater tolerance and, almost invariably, less concentration of dog walkers and non-dog walkers. Human and canine feet share the same ground less often, and the natural ecosystem works more effectively, and faeces become part of that natural cycle.

Efforts to deal with the problem of dog fouling become more confused and controversial because of the use of dogs in the countryside for agricultural and other working practices as well as for sport. Therefore, the clause 1 exclusions effectively mean that the Bill does not apply to the countryside.

As originally drafted, the Bill included national park land among my listed exemptions, along with agricultural land, woodlands, land that was predominantly moor or heath, and rural common land. Those exclusions were intended to reinforce the special nature of such land. I have been advised, however, that no such reinforcement is needed, and that it has a negative ramification. I had overlooked the most obvious point: villages and towns come within the boundaries of national parks. I do not wish them to be denied the provisions of the Bill, which would have been the effect of clause 1(3)(b).

I am persuaded that the other exclusions are sufficient to meet my concerns. The exclusion of national parks adds nothing. Indeed, as I have explained, it positively puts towns and villages in national parks at a disadvantage compared with those elsewhere.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

May I take my hon. Friend back to Hampstead heath, where I often walked my dog when I was a boy, and draw his attention to its considerable areas of woodland? It is not his intention that the Bill should exclude areas such as Hampstead heath, but would its woodland be excluded by the Bill?

Mr. Hunter

The Bill states that woodland is excluded. Woodland is woodland wherever the wood may be. Such areas would be specifically excluded.

Mr. Jenkin

It is much as I feared. While some parts of Hampstead heath are barren and open, and the natural ecosystem would work as my hon. Friend described, its woodlands—especially those around Kenwood house—are densely walked as recreational areas. Would there be no offence of dog fouling in those areas? Is that not a shortcoming of the Bill?

Mr. Hunter

I take my hon. Friend's point. I do not have his intimate knowledge of the woods of Hampstead heath, but my Bill is aimed primarily at the urban environment. Where, as in Hampstead heath, there is a more rural, natural environment in a greater urban area, and there is woodland, the exemption stands.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

One of the reasons that I am here to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) is that part of my constituency lies in a national park. I am anxious about removing the exemption for land in national parks, because sheep, equine and other agricultural animals as well as dogs may trespass from the countryside into semi-urban areas. I wonder whether my hon. Friend's Bill will be enforceable where a national park rural area dovetails with or is part of an urban area. Many dogs, some of which are used for agricultural purposes as he said, are free to roam in such areas. Is he wise to seek to withdraw that exemption?

Mr. Hunter

The rural parts of a national park are covered by the Bill. I took the national parks exemption out because of the villages and towns in the midst of some of them. I wanted them to have the benefit of the Bill. The more rural parts of national parks are covered by the categories that deal with land that is "predominantly moor or heath", some sorts of common land, and land used for agriculture or for woodlands". The necessary exemptions are there. In seeking to remove the reference to national parks, I am ensuring that their villages and towns are not treated differently from those elsewhere.

Mr. Winterton

The confusion arises over where villages and towns begin and moor and heath end. In many areas—I refer particularly to the Peak park, in which part of my constituency lies—there is no fixed point at which the moor and heath end and villages begin. I wonder about the Bill's enforceability if my hon. Friend removes the national parks exemption.

Mr. Hunter

The process of designation includes the provision that the Secretary of State, through regulation, should draw up the procedures that the local authorities must follow. A consultation period is involved. Local authorities that wish to designate land will be obliged by regulation to advertise the fact.

The democracy of local government would be at work. A local authority that wanted to designate a zone would have to have a period of discussion within the workings of local democracy, during which councillors and the people would discuss whether the line should be drawn there or here, or say that they did not want a designated zone at all. There is an element of flexibility that is finalised through the application and designation of the zone. That is how my hon. Friend's uncertainty over where a designated zone stops and starts would be resolved.

I must clarify what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). When I referred to woodland, I meant land that is used for woodland. It is the commercial forestry aspect and not the mere fact of there being trees that is important.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

The more my hon. Friend talks about clause 1, the more horrified I am by its concept. Do I understand that whole areas of Richmond park, which have been enjoyed for centuries by the public—whether by themselves or for walking their dogs—are to be poop-scoop zones? Are the forests of Exmoor to be poop-scoop zones? Are my constituents and other people to crash round the undergrowth with a pooper-scooper in search of where their dogs have been? My hon. Friend is being most illiberal, and I beg him to reconsider.

Mr. Hunter

My hon. Friend has missed a fundamental point. There is nothing obligatory in the Bill, and it imposes nothing. It makes available to local authorities that wish to use its powers the means to tackle a problem that they find that they cannot tackle without it. It is there for those local authorities in parts of the country where there is a demand from people to resolve this issue. The Bill's powers are not being imposed on my hon. Friend or anyone else unless they are wanted.

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend is being a little disingenuous. Can he recollect there ever having been a power given to local authorities that they have not, in the pursuit of modern political correctness, instigated with immediate appetite? This is the nanny state gone mad. I beg my hon. Friend to reconsider the clause.

Mr. Hunter

I do not accept my hon. Friend's arguments, and think that he is getting carried away by his own enthusiasm and the light-heartedness and less responsible nature of a Friday morning. I shall remind him of the Bill's essence.

Over the years, many local authorities have come to the conclusion that the byelaw system of dealing with the problem of dog fouling is inadequate. That fact emerged from the Department of the Environment's advisory group on litter, which reported in 1994. Among its conclusions was the suggestion that there should be a national offence, in order to simplify and accelerate the process of giving local authorities powers to deal with dog fouling as and when they wanted.

The Bill, if enacted, will be dealt with differently in different parts of the country; it will be irrelevant to many areas and much needed in others. It will be there for local authorities to use if they think that it will allow them better to represent and serve the interests of local people.

My hon. Friend is getting carried away over nothing; there is no question of a nanny state. We are talking about an anti-social activity involving dogs, irresponsible dog owners and a health hazard. It is right that we should give the local authorities the powers they need to be able to deal with the problems more efficiently.

10 am

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Is my hon. Friend aware—I am sure he is, as it is no doubt why he has promoted the Bill—that there are 100 to 200 cases a year reported in this country alone of toxocara canis? I urge him to recommend our hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) to read the report in the British Medical Journal of 2 July 1994, which I have been reading with growing perturbation.

The article is written by a consultant ophthalmologist, Mr. Kerr-Muir. He says that toxocaral visceral larva migrans is characterised by fever, malaise, coughs, bronchio spasms, abdominal pain, occasional failure to thrive". He goes on and on, but I would not be in order were Ito read it all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is also going on and on.

Mr. Hunter

I regret that I have not seen the article to which my hon. Friend referred, but I should very much appreciate receiving a copy of it. Perhaps he will arrange for a copy of it to be placed in the Library as many parts of it may be extremely relevant to the debate. If my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may well be able to enlighten us further on the contents of the article.

Mr. Jenkin

May I bring my hon. Friend back to the amendments that we are discussing, as I am becoming increasingly perturbed about the overlap of the exclusions and the powers that he seeks to give to local authorities?

When my hon. Friend referred to Hampstead heath, he said that the City of London, which might wish to regulate dog fouling on Hampstead heath, should be allowed to do so without interference from other local authorities or jurisdictions. But land that is predominantly moor or heath is specifically excluded from the Bill. Are the definitions of what is to be excluded or included sufficiently thought through? My hon. Friend's amendments suggest that he has had second thoughts on the matter. If that point is not made clear, the Bill will be impossible to apply—different authorities with different jurisdictions will compete with dog owners and point to exclusions in the Bill, making it impossible for the powers to be applied where the public want them.

Mr. Hunter

My hon. Friend is making a bit of a mountain out of this. The Bill has an essential simplicity, and I shall remind my hon. Friend of its fundamental objective: to concentrate on those areas—towns, villages and cities—where the problem of dog fouling is greater. It is not an anti-dog Bill or an anti-dog owners Bill; it is a Bill that seeks to encourage responsible dog ownership. Responsible dog owners will welcome it; it acknowledges that dog fouling is an environmental problem and a health risk.

Mr. Jenkin

I am concerned that the Bill's bark will be much worse than its bite because of the conflicts of jurisdiction that arise through the confusion between what is excluded and what is included.

Mr. Hunter

I think that Hampstead heath and Wimbledon common have been mentioned; the difficulty is that some areas already fall within a number of London boroughs—a regulating power looks after the land. We must accommodate the present relatively complicated position, which is why I have tabled the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I shall return to a point I made earlier, to which my hon. Friend sought to respond. I understand his difficulties and, overall, I think that he is trying to produce an excellent Bill that has long been needed. However, many of the farmers who belong to the Macclesfield and District Sheep Dog Trials Association, of which I am patron, live in villages such as Wincle and Wild Boarclough in my constituency. While they are responsible people, their dogs inevitably wander in those villages.

My fear is that, from time to time, the dogs might foul the pavements or roads. We do not have an officious and irresponsible council in Macclesfield—quite the contrary—but there may be over-officious councils in similar positions. What will happen? Will they prosecute a sheep farmer, who needs his sheepdogs for his work, because those dogs have fouled a pavement or road in a village in a national park?

Mr. Hunter

There is a flaw in my hon. Friend's argument. He has overlooked the fact that the powers in the Bill already exist—almost precisely—and are available through the byelaw regime. At present, a local authority can apply for—embark on—the byelaw procedure and establish dog-fouling byelaws where it so chooses. Local authorities will not be given greater powers as a result of the Bill, which merely simplifies the process. The offence created by the Bill is, essentially, the offence that already exists under byelaws. It is therefore wrong to argue that enacting the Bill will result in more draconian powers becoming available.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, under clause 3(1)(a), the "reasonable excuse" would probably provide a defence for someone caught in the circumstances to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred?

Mr. Hunter

That is indeed the case. The Bill provides a defence of "reasonable excuse" in circumstances where the owner could not reasonably be held responsible for an act of fouling performed by his or her dog.

I shall return to the theme of my argument. I had, somewhat paradoxically, arrived at the stage where I was going to acknowledge my thanks to two or three of my colleagues, who are not here today, who drew my attention to the difficulty that the Bill presents in terms of national parks.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) was the first person to draw my attention to the issue; my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) also drew my attention to it; and my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) showed me correspondence that he had received from the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) on it. After the Bill appeared in January, national parks officials discovered that, as it stood, there was no cover for the villages and towns in national parks—which is why this somewhat controversial amendment is currently before us.

The last of my amendments in the first group—amendment No. 5—adds two areas that are exempt from designation, including marshland. The effect of the amendment, obviously, is to prevent local authorities from applying the poop-scoop offence to marshland. The origins of the amendment lie in the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) made in Committee and in subsequent correspondence with me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham suggested three other types of land to which, in his judgment, the provisions of the Bill should not apply. First, he suggested the foreshore, which I take to be the difference between high water and low water—and there is an amendment to that effect later. Secondly—to my great surprise and bewilderment—in Committee he suggested that riding schools and riding stables should be excluded. I still do not understand why he would think—he must have been temporarily confused—that the Bill has anything to do with horses and horse dung. I hope that my hon. Friends realise that we are concentrating entirely on dog fouling.

Mr. Hargreaves

It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) was quite realistically intimating that those who are engaged in a riding. school might have dogs in attendance when they are mounted. They might find it somewhat difficult—if they are in charge of a small gaggle of children mounted on ponies—to solemnly dismount at an awkward moment and poop their scoop, or scoop their poop, while on horseback. They might have to relinquish charge of their little gaggle of Thelwellites in order to do so. That might be the reason behind my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Hunter

That is a remarkable insight that had not occurred to me. As my hon. Friend says, it would be extremely difficult to poop the scoop, or to scoop the poop, while on horseback.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I apologise for arriving a little late during the start of the debate. I have had a chance to see the correspondence between my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson).

When I first read it, I thought that the analogy that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham was trying to make was between riding stables and farms. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke confirm that a farm would not be part of the area included? If that is the case, why can we not equate a farm and a riding stable—I have no strong views on this, but perhaps there is a simple explanation for it?

Mr. Hunter

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Mr. Thompson) has perhaps overlooked the fact that I am dealing with the part of the Bill that gives private landowners the right to, as it were, veto its application—that is, the powers of the Bill cannot be enforced on private land without the consent of the landowner.

Mr. Thompson

I am the first to admit that I have not been involved in the earlier stages of the debate on the Bill. However, surely that provision would apply to a riding stable as well as to a farm.

10.15 am
Mr. Hunter

The owner of any land, estate, farm, riding school or whatever could not have the powers of the Bill imposed on him. The private owner has the right to, as it were, veto the Bill. I referred to the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham that I accept—the one relating to marshland. I considered the suggestion carefully, and I came to the conclusion that it would be inappropriate to allow local authorities to designate marshland, as there is no clear requirement or case for it. There is no reason why people should be obliged to clean up after dogs in such areas.

There is already an element of protection under section 20 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 that controls access of dogs. In my judgment, that provision would be sufficient, particularly if the marshland were also a nature reserve. Therefore, I commend amendment No. 5.

That takes me through the eight amendments in my name in the first group. I believe that the Bill requires all the amendments. I think that the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield on the national parks issue is genuine but perhaps not fully justified.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will look sympathetically on an amendment or an addition to what he has said, to include working dogs, gundogs, working terriers and hounds, whether they are hunting in the normal way or hounds involved in a drag hunt? I am confused by the Bill. I know what my hon. Friend is seeking to do—and overall I support him—but does he believe that these categories of dog merit exemption from the discretionary powers in the Bill?

Mr. Hunter

There will be a number of amendments later that refer to certain categories of working dogs. It is fair to say that last year's Dogs (Fouling of Land) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), attempted to categorise dogs and to list exemptions. I am strongly opposed to that, because I think that any list of exemptions cannot be complete and will always have an element of controversy. I think that the reasonable excuse covers any circumstances in which, as my hon. Friend fears, the Bill could be unreasonable—therefore, it is already contained within the reasonable excuse.

Mr. Thomason

I speak to amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which stand in my name. Amendment No. 19 answers the point that —my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) raised a few moments ago. He expressed concern about people riding horses, having dogs with them and having to get down from their horse to scoop the poop, or to poop the scoop—whichever way around it should be—should one of the dogs foul the land.

The amendment includes bridleways and public footpaths in its list of exclusions. When I looked at the exemptions that appear in clause 1(3), I saw that agriculture and woodland are listed. It struck me as absurd that the field is exempt but that the bridlepath that goes through it is not. That leads to an artificial distinction. I understand that there are difficulties, because one does not want public footpaths or bridleways across fields to be covered in dog excrement.

Nevertheless, the Bill is getting into deep water if we require people to chase their dog and collect the excrement if it happens to be on the public footpath, whereas, if it is an inch or two away, on the field, the agricultural exemption applies. It would encourage people to walk their dogs on fields rather than along public footpaths. The footpath is much more desirable, for a variety of reasons. I believe that the amendment largely, if not entirely, addresses the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green.

I considered a matter that other hon. Members have mentioned in relation to stables. It seemed absurd to me that horse dung—which, inevitably, is of considerably greater quantity—can be left on bridleways, yet there is a movement against dog excrement.

Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Thomason

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend is aware that horses are herbivores, not carnivores, like dogs, so the nature of the excrement is far less damaging. In some places—including Lichfield—people get out not pooper scoopers but shovels and put horse excrement on their roses. They certainly could not and would not want to do that with dog excrement.

Mr. Thomason

I entirely accept that point, but horse excrement is nevertheless an unpleasant obstruction on a public footpath or bridleway. It may well have much better uses—my hon. Friend is right—but it did seem absurd that we were creating that differential.

Amendment No. 20, also in my name, deals with the speed limit on the highway in clause 1(2). The Bill provides that there will be an exclusion where the speed limit is at least 40 mph, and I suggest that that should be reduced to 30 mph. I do so for two reasons.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) for introducing the Bill, which is a much-needed addition to legislation. In Committee, he said that he envisaged the Bill as being primarily aimed at tackling an urban problem. The first reason for amendment No. 20 is that roads where the speed limit is 40 mph are sometimes urban, but are sometimes rural or semi-rural.

The second reason arises from the fact that subsection (2) was introduced because it is rightly considered dangerous for people to have to scoop on or near a road where vehicles are travelling at considerable speeds. One can draw an artificial line anywhere where one considers that speed alone is excessively dangerous to people who would be involved in that activity, but an urban road at 30 mph is very different from a semi-urban or rural road where traffic is travelling at 40 mph.

The intention of the subsection is much better served by fixing the speed limit at 30 mph. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke will be able to accept both amendments.

Mr. Jenkin

I can think of several urban roads in my constituency with a 40 mph speed limit, such as Remembrance avenue, which is by any standards an urban road, or Lexden road, which has a 40 mph speed limit in places. Therefore, a 40 mph speed limit seems to be an appropriate designation. In open countryside, the technical speed limit, subject to road safety, is 60 mph. The exclusion is therefore obviously intended to apply only to all urban roads. As some urban roads have a 40 mph speed limit, it seems sensible to stick to that speed limit.

Mr. Thomason

I understand my hon. Friend's point and expression of concern. I am sure we all know of urban roads where the speed limit is 40 mph, but we also may know of inadequately lighted roads with a speed limit of 40 mph. There is a requirement of adequate lighting for roads whose speed limit is 30 mph—that is one of the definitions—but very often roads with a 40 mph speed limit are not adequately lighted, so the road safety point seems to predominate.

The worst thing we could seek to do is create a clause that exposes members of the public to a danger. I believe that, at 40 mph, there would still be considerable danger, so the amendment is appropriate.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I genuinely want my hon. Friend to help me. As I understand it, his amendments would make clause 1(2) read: This Act does not apply to land comprised in or running alongside

  1. (a) a bridleway or public footpath, or
  2. (b) a road
unless the driving of motor vehicles on the road is subject"— and so on. I do not follow that, because it is unclear whether the speed limit applies only to the road or to the bridleway or footpath. In any case, if we are talking about land alongside a bridleway or footpath, I am not sure that I agree with the point that my hon. Friend is making.

I am not a lawyer; my hon. Friend is. No doubt I am totally misreading his intention. Will he please clarify?

Mr. Thomason

I think that, if my hon. Friend had the Bill before him with paragraphs (a) and (b) set out as I propose, he would find it somewhat easier to follow. Paragraph (b) refers to the whole of the rest of that clause, so it will not refer to a speed limit applying to footpaths or bridleways; that is not the intention. The proviso will refer to, and be incorporated in, paragraph (b), not in paragraph (a).

Mr. Thompson

I accept that, but—this may be another misreading of the amended clause—does my hon. Friend intend that land alongside a bridleway or footpath should no longer be so designated? If so, I have my doubts about the proposal.

Mr. Thomason

In answer to my hon. Friend's second point about the verge, which I was going to come to, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the footpath and the verge of that footpath where it adjoins fields or woodland. If the provision were not phrased as I propose, a person would be able to walk their dog on the physical line of the footpath without a scoop, and they would be able to let their dog wander into the field without a scoop because of the agricultural exemption, yet there would be a verge in between where they would have to undertake a collection. Therefore, it is necessary for the verge to be included.

Mr. Hargreaves

It is an eminently sensible suggestion. May I commend my hon. Friend for amendment No. 20 regarding the speed limit? On many roads in and outside national parks—such as in almost the whole of the New forest, and in the Lake district—with a speed limit, technically, of 30 mph, one may expect traffic to travel at least at that speed, because there are long open straights and nothing to be seen for miles on either side. It would be extremely dangerous for people to wander about with pooper scoops on those roads.

Mr. Thomason

I am obliged to my hon. Friend; he makes good points.

I shall briefly discuss the other amendments in the group. I am persuaded by what my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said about his amendments, and I am sure that they make a great deal of sense. I especially congratulate him on amendment No. 5, referring to marshland, which seemed to me an important exclusion from the Bill previously. He is right to include that with the agricultural land and so on to which the Bill would not apply.

All the amendments in this considerable group have much to commend them, except, I regret to say, amendment No. 11 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), which will, I fear, excessively narrow the terms of the legislation. The definitions in it are unsatisfactory. I go no further on that point, because I appreciate that my hon. Friend has not had a chance yet to advance his arguments on the amendment, but I have grave doubts about it. It seems to me to do great harm to the purpose of the Bill and make it much more difficult to implement and use.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on introducing the Bill, which I support. There is no doubt that we must deal with this menace in urban areas. However, my probing amendments Nos. 11 and 12 allow my hon. Friend and the Minister in summing up the debate to comment on how the Bill will affect rural compared with urban areas.

I am perhaps fortunate to live both in the middle of Westminster, where I cannot see a single tree, and in the middle of Lincolnshire, in my constituency, where I cannot see another house. I acknowledge that dog fouling is an appalling problem in Westminster, Kensington and in other urban areas, but it is not a problem in rural areas. My amendments seek confirmation as to what areas will be designated under the legislation. They make the point that people who live in rural areas—particularly those with legitimate sporting interests, to which one amendment refers specifically—

10.30 am
Ms Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people who live in rural areas are very concerned about the effects on children of dog fouling? Sporting dogs, which roam into villages and small towns in rural areas, leave excrement that is much more dangerous than that of dogs that normally eat pre-packaged food from which many of the toxins have been removed. That is a problem in the north Pennines where I live.

Mr. Leigh

I acknowledge that there is a problem in rural areas, but I do not think that it is anywhere near as great as in urban areas. Many people believe that legislation that is designed primarily for urban areas impacts unduly on rural areas. The hon. Lady refers to sporting dogs, but there is a legitimate fear—which was voiced when the previous Bill was considered in the other place last year—that local authorities would use the Bill for political reasons to affect legitimate sporting interests. That is why my amendment No. 12 addresses those interests specifically.

No one doubts that it is a serious problem: we should not have to put up with dog excrement on our sidewalks. However, the legislation will create special problems on the edges of villages, such as those in my constituency. I ask my hon. Friend and the Minister to confirm the extent of the Bill's jurisdiction. Will it apply to grass verges on the edge of villages? There are about 7 million dogs in this country, many of which are owned by elderly people who walk them on the outskirts of villages in rural areas. Will the Bill apply to grass verges? My hon. Friend has said that it will not apply to areas around roads where traffic travels at more than 40 mph. However, cars travel quickly around villages also. Must villagers take pooper scoopers with them when walking their dogs? Such problems must be addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) made a very serious point when my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said that there would be no exemptions under the legislation. However, there is an exemption for blind people and for guide dogs in clause 3(3). So, contrary to what he said, my hon. Friend has made some exemptions. Therefore, I believe that there should be some exemption for legitimate sporting purposes. It should be absolutely clear on the face of the Bill that it is designed to deal with a serious problem—dogs fouling sidewalks—in strictly urban areas. The legislation should not apply to grass verges, the outskirts of villages or to hunts that meet in the middle of villages.

That is a very serious point. Some people may think that this is a minor Bill of no real interest, but I refer hon. Members to the comments of Lord Simon of Glaisdale in the other place. He described it as a serious matter and said that the legislation represented a centralising of authority, He referred to the old dispensing power of the Crown which was found so objectionable in Stuart times and was finally disposed of in the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 1995; Vol. 566, c. 1292.] This is an important Bill, which represents a massive centralisation of power.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I do not wish to resist or to interfere with the valid arguments that my hon. Friend is advancing on behalf of rural interests. However, in my constituency complaints about dog fouling have increased by 291 per cent. in the past year or so. Broadland district council said: The problem is not just confined to urban areas. Dog fouling is a problem in villages as well, e.g., pavements, village greens, playing fields and footpaths. I ask my hon. Friend to acknowledge that point; I am not trying to resist his argument in total.

Mr. Leigh

Of course, I acknowledge that point. I am not saying that dog fouling is not a problem in the centre of villages. Some villages are very large, such as several in my constituency that have populations of 3,000 or 4,000. It is correct to adopt the old-fashioned approach of allowing local authorities to use their good sense and to introduce byelaws based on local knowledge. However, as it is drafted, the Bill does not take into account the interests of those who live in primarily agricultural areas, on the outskirts of villages, or in villages such as mine with about 12 houses. My probing amendments aim to force the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke to set my mind at rest by confirming that the Bill is not another attack on legitimate interests.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I know that my hon. Friend is interested in hunting and in all sporting activities. He has referred to villages in which meets take place. Such meets are often centred around public houses that are close to village greens. When there is a gathering of 15 couple or 20 couple of hounds and many horses and ponies, inevitably there will be quite a few deposits. I wonder how such meets would be affected by what I perceive to be the additional powers—albeit discretionary powers—that the Bill affords local authorities. I am concerned that the legislation may adversely affect traditional customs.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend makes a very serious point. I took part in the last hunt organised by the United Hunts of Lincolnshire—the Blankney, Brocklesby and Burton hunts—in the village of Brant Broughton only last Monday. That hunt met in the middle of a large village. There were 80 followers of hounds mounted on horseback, perhaps 100 foot followers and a pack of hounds. It is absurd to suggest that a local authority or some centralising power in the Bill could force an army of people to follow the hounds with pooper scoopers. That is why I believe that perfectly legitimate Bills that are designed to deal with primarily urban problems should not apply in the same way to rural areas. The legislation's ramifications for rural areas have not been considered properly.

It is common to allow dogs to roam unaccompanied in villages and in rural areas. How will the Bill apply in those circumstances? Many of those who live in rural areas train their dogs to defecate in gutters or in ditches. Will such people—including the elderly—be prosecuted and fined up to £1,000? Those serious questions should be addressed.

I am glad that hon. Members have referred to national parks and to common land. I am not sure that all the issues have been seriously considered and debated. This is our first opportunity to debate the Bill. It was not debated on Second Reading, when it passed through formally, and it was not debated in Committee. We are debating the legislation this morning and I am seeking some answers. Many people who live in the centre of large villages are happy to rely on their local authorities to do the right thing. However, they are seeking reassurance on several counts. If my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke can provide those assurances, I shall be happy to support the Bill.

Mr. Fabricant

I shall speak to amendment No. 22, in my name, which seeks to exclude from the Bill the land between the low and high tide marks at the seaside. Although I represent a constituency that is as far away from the sea as one can get, I was born by the seaside in a little village called Rottingdean, four miles east of Brighton. Picture if you will, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a little Michael Fabricant, four years of age, toddling with his bucket and spade by the seaside and coming across the poop that we ought to be scooping. However, it is a serious matter.

I mentioned in an earlier intervention the British Medical Journal article about toxocara canis. It is interesting to note that 2 to 3 per cent. of all adults and 7 to 14 per cent. of schoolchildren have been exposed to the disease—possibly even the little four-year-old Michael Fabricant, although I do not know, as I did not suffer any of the symptoms—not only those whose families have dogs. Quite clearly, they are catching it from dog faeces.

After last night's debate, I am pleased that we are not simply taking note of a directive from Brussels on crottes de chien. Subsidiarity does work—that is demonstrated by the fact that today's debate is taking place here, in the mother of Parliaments, and we can debate the matter without interference from Brussels, so some powers still remain in this Parliament.

Mr. Hargreaves

Does not my hon. Friend accept, however, that it has come to a pretty pass when the only subject that we can debate is where and when dogs may defecate? If that is what Parliament has come to, my hon. Friend and I—and perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—ought to do something about it.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend makes a telling point indeed.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) seeks to devalue the debate, is my hon. Friend aware that, according to the figures that I have available, more than 1,000 tonnes of excrement are deposited every day?

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I was pointing out, the consequences of that in the form of toxocara canis can be quite devastating as well as most unpleasant.

I am surprised that there are no powers to deal with this poisonous menace, such as those that already apply to some degree in regard to litter, which sometimes can be less dangerous.

My reason for tabling the amendment is simple common sense. There are two tides a day. The sea water comes twice a day between the low and high tide mark and, although dog owners should exercise responsibility—incidentally, the regular worming of dogs would to a large extent abolish part of the problem of toxocara canis, and a little more responsibility from dog owners would mean we would not have to debate this important Bill—the movement of the tides means that it is unnecessary to include that strip of land which surrounds these British Isles and separates the low and high tide mark.

Mr. Thomason

Has my hon. Friend considered the impact of Crown exemption on that strip of land? I understand that the strip of land between the high and low water marks is vested in the Crown estate. I wonder whether the exclusions that apply to the Crown mean that the Bill would not be applicable in any event.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend is far more experienced than I am in those matters. He will know that I was not a councillor before I became a Member of Parliament, and he may well be right. Nevertheless, if he is wrong, it is right simply from the point of common sense to exclude from the Bill that strip of land where, twice a day, automatically there will be a cleaning of the foreshore by the movement of the tides.

The amendment does not seek to encourage people to bring their dogs to the sea front to defecate, as happens in parts of Brighton, where I came from originally. That is an appalling practice, too. It was interesting to note that, some years ago, Brighton borough council, as it was then, introduced the very first dog toilets in the United Kingdom. It is also interesting that they were subsequently introduced in Paris. The French copied us. That demonstrates that Britain can not only be in the heart of Europe; it can lead Europe, too.

10.45 am
Mr. Hargreaves

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the amendments. Let me refer the House back to amendments Nos. 1 to 6 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). I am concerned that those amendments should not mitigate unfairly against those who would normally walk their dogs on river walks and towpaths. I seek clarification from my hon. Friend that the authority, whether it is vested in a public utility or the local council—and sometimes they may overlap—would not affect the exclusions or the powers to exclude that my hon. Friend's amendments would introduce.

In and around Birmingham, there are large areas of canals. Beside those canals, there are miles of footpaths with significant verges on either side, some of which lead to leafy woodland areas or fields and some of which are in the middle of urban areas. A distinction must be made between those areas. It has always been the habit of people in Birmingham to conserve the land—which is not far from where I live in my constituency—where the River Cole runs through the city. It has been the habit for scores of years, if not decades, for people to walk their dogs along the river bank and for the dogs to run wild and free, roaming around the conservation area.

I should be deeply concerned if my hon. Friend's amendments did not exclude those areas from the competence of the Bill. They represent a natural amenity, where people do not currently crash around in the undergrowth. I would hate the effect of the Bill to be that dog owners should be forced to crash around in the undergrowth that conservationists have tried desperately hard to maintain, brandishing their pooper scoopers, seeking the faeces that the dog had just produced. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure me that that is not the case.

I understand that my hon. Friend's amendments affect towpaths running alongside canals. Will he explain the effect on dog owners who regularly use those towpaths, which are comparatively little used for any other purpose? I seek clarification from my hon. Friend on that.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

My hon. Friend referred to dogs and their owners crashing through the undergrowth. I am sure that he would not want the message to go out from the House and the Bill that we are happy for dogs to run anywhere, particularly in the nesting season—which relates to the restrictions that the Bill seeks to introduce. Dog owners must be responsible in their own way, whether or not they carry a pooper scooper, and in conservation areas be cognisant of the countryside and of nesting birds at this time of year.

Mr. Hargreaves

I fully take on board my hon. Friend's comments. I am certain that dog owners are likely to be far more careful in conservation areas than the bands of politically correct people who, from an urban perspective, seek to impose restrictions on so many others.

I ask my hon. Friend to clarify the situation in regard to footways, footpaths and green lanes, which are covered by amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8. Such paths and lanes can sometimes take the form of unmade roads passing through countryside or semi-countryside. Some public rights of way may be used by horses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) said, or four-wheel drive vehicles. Often, there is not another soul in sight, and owners would normally expect to run their dogs free. Is it seriously suggested that dog owners will have to run around with plastic bags and trowels in the middle of nowhere?

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke repeatedly made the point that the Bill is directed primarily at suburban areas and large villages, where dog fouling has become a menace. I support that objective, but I am deeply concerned on behalf of nearly 2 million registered dog owners, that they would be unnecessarily restricted by bureaucracy and red tape, which will be interpreted by the politically correct and the dogless—as the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) intimated—as an opportunity to penalise the natural right of people to walk their dogs.

Mr. Fabricant

Although we do not want to over-regulate or to spoil the enjoyment and great value that dogs bring to individuals and families, does not my hon. Friend agree that the Bill would be unnecessary were it not a fact that some dog owners are wholly irresponsible?

Mr. Hargreaves

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point, which reinforces his earlier remark that dogs should be wormed at regular intervals, in accordance with a vet's recommendations. Then, human health would not be at risk. I would welcome more action in that regard.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my hon. Friend believe that discretionary legislation would in all cases be applied to towpaths and footpaths? The Macclesfield canal, which passes my home, is widely used for recreation and leisure by children and people with dogs. How would the Bill affect towpaths and footpaths?

Mr. Hargreaves

They would be covered by the Bill, unless my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke can reassure me that they are excluded by amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8. I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), because the towpaths that run alongside canals and riverways in Birmingham are used by thousands of people. Dog owners are sometimes accompanied by children, and quite often the children are walking the dogs.

Mr. John Carlisle

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised an important point. Canals and towpaths are used for leisure, but also by people plying their trade up and down the waterways. Many canal boat owners have dogs. Where do those dogs go when they need to perform their bodily functions? They inevitably use the towpath. Is it suggested that we should discourage canal boat owners, some of whom are pursuing nothing more than leisure activities, from taking their dogs and letting them have a break from sitting on a boat all day, by allowing their dogs to run along the towpath?

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Although we want to encourage all owners to act responsibly in ensuring that dogs do not defecate where people are likely to walk, the Bill's scope is too wide. I am sure that my hon. Friend will further explain amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8, but I am not sure that they adequately cover my concerns.

I am concerned also that amendment No. 4 excludes national park land. I acknowledge that there are large villages and even towns in some national parks. I think particularly of Exmoor, which I know well, and the Lake district. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield pointed out that the Peak district is also in that category. However, it would be simple for the Bill to encompass what would normally be called urban or suburban areas, and to provide definitions. That would allay the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), myself and other hon. Members.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I refer to earlier exchanges and to the fact that my own district council, Broadland, stated categorically that there is a problem in villages. I am not resisting all my hon. Friend's arguments, but surely he accepts that argument.

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I would include large villages in an urban or suburban context. It is entirely proper for regulations to cover streets, pavements, squares, village greens, football and other recreation grounds—but I oppose the suggestion that every village that borders on a national park or is outside one should be encompassed by the Bill. That would be unnecessarily restrictive, and it smacks of nanny-stateism and of being anti-dog.

I remind the hon. Member for North-West Durham, who is not a dog owner, that her remarks will be misconstrued by this country's 2 million registered dog owners.

Ms Armstrong

There are more than that.

Mr. Hargreaves

I am using Kennel Club registrations. I am certain that the people with whom I discussed the Bill at Crufts last weekend will take up the hon. Lady's remarks with their Members of Parliament and that the size of her mailbag will increase significantly. I discussed the issues raised by the Bill with members of a Kennel Club committee who were at Crufts—I am not sure which—and with a large number of dog breeders, who are most concerned. I refer in particular to amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke.

Dog breeders use areas that would normally be considered footpaths running out of villages. Breeders might be walking five, six, seven or eight dogs along such a footpath. Solemnly to say that, every time one of the dogs disappeared into the adjoining verge, they would have to rush around with a plastic bag and a trowel, is not practical. If the Bill said that, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke would find that the size of his mail bag would increase exponentially between now and the general election, with letters from people demanding that the legislation be reversed. Dog breeders and owners will resent enormously that nanny-stateism being applied to them.

11 am

I welcome amendment No. 5, which excludes marshland. It is eminently sensible. I also support amendments Nos. 19 and 20, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, both of which are eminently desirable.

I support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) about the mid-foreshore. One often thinks of the foreshore, as he rightly said, in terms of Brighton, but in some areas of the British Isles, people go down to a foreshore that is much larger because of the movement of the tide. I am thinking of parts of the coast of Cumbria and Yorkshire, where there are miles and miles of flatland, mudflats and estuary, all of which are technically designated foreshore. It would be absurd to bring them within the compass of the Bill and to have the extraordinary sight of people wandering around with buckets, plastic bags, trowels, poop scoops, and so on. That would not be a natural or sensible move. Therefore, I strongly support my hon. Friend's amendments.

I have great sympathy with the probing amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle. We must make a distinction between the normal, natural life of country people and that of people in suburban villages—to refer back to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson)—or urban areas, where we wish to get to grips with the problem of dog fouling. I am not sure that the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke go far enough to make that distinction.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I wish to make a few brief references to three of the amendments in this group. The first is amendment No. 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). He described it as a probing amendment, but it is perhaps a probe too far. The impact of his amendment would be to make the Bill cover all ground except agricultural land. That would widen the Bill, whereas he made the case for narrowing it. The Bill would then include woodland, heathland and marshland. None of those seems to be a fruitful area to encompass within the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

It is a probing amendment. I directed my remarks particularly to the edges of villages. I wanted an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). I wanted to force out of them exactly how the Bill would apply. It would not apply to agricultural land or woodland in the middle of the countryside, but would it apply to rural villages and hamlets?

Mr. Merchant

That is a fair point. I shall come back to it when I deal with another amendment. My hon. Friend waxed philosophical about the ideas behind the Bill and what he described as centralised authority. I do not regard the Bill as a centralising measure. He seems to have forgotten, as do several of my hon. Friends, the significance of clause 2, which describes the process of designation by a local authority. The Bill is permissive legislation which gives local authorities extra rights. That is hardly centralisation. It does not compel them to exercise those rights. If a local authority, which is presumably close to the people in its area, and which is dependent on them for re-election, decides that it does not want to cover a specific area, it does not have to do so. In so doing, it reflects local people's views.

If anything, the onus is the other way. The onus is on people in the area to persuade the local authority to take a deliberate step to include land within the definitions in the Bill. Even then, local authorities will have specific powers to define generally or in more detail which land is included. I should have thought that that would entirely satisfy my hon. Friend.

Mr. Leigh

I do not ask my hon. Friend to take my advice, but will he take the advice of a distinguished former Law Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale? He said: It centralises the offence in place of it being the subject of by-laws. Not only that, it creates a very wide offence, leaving it to the Minister, with exiguous parliamentary control to make exceptions."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 1995; Vol. 566, c. 1292.] He went on to make the point about the old dispensing power that I referred to in my speech.

Mr. Merchant

The fact remains that the Bill primarily gives power to local authorities to designate, if they wish to do so. I do not define that as centralisation. Nor is it compulsion. The people of an area have considerable authority—I would say the ultimate authority—to decide whether any aspect of the Bill should apply.

The House will recall that amendment No. 20 refers to speed limits on roads. There has been some discussion on urban areas versus rural areas. Those definitions are misnomers. We should refer to residential and non-residential areas. Surely the objective of the Bill is to protect people who would otherwise be affected by nuisance as a result of the activity of dogs. Such nuisance impacts mostly where there is a high concentration of people and, therefore, of dogs.

Residential areas can be in rural as well as urban areas. I can think of no easier way of covering both types of residential area than reference to speed limits. Speed limits are almost universally chosen to match the concentration of population. A 30 mph limit is imposed in urban and rural areas where there are a lot of houses and a high-density population. It trails off to 40 mph where housing is more widely set apart and there are fewer people. The limit disappears entirely where there are no houses.

Mr. Hargreaves

Does my hon. Friend accept that in many areas within the national parks speed limits are 30 mph rather than 40 mph? Therefore, the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) is justified.

Mr. Merchant

I accept the first part of what my hon. Friend said, but not the second. I did not suggest that the 30 and 40 mph limits perfectly correlated with heavily residential areas and not so heavily residential areas. I merely suggested that there was a high correlation and that they were the easiest way of covering the problem that the Bill is trying to solve—distinguishing between areas with a lot of people and a lot of dogs and other areas.

It would be possible to substitute 30 mph for 40 mph in the Bill, but the result would not be particularly effective. The latter limit provides for a clear and effective division, and it does not need changing. It has been argued that some people walking their dogs will not know whether a road has a 40 mph limit, but that would apply just as much to a road with a 30 mph limit. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of people walking their dogs will know the roads they are using well and will know the speed limit. If they do not, they can easily find out, since they walk their dogs regularly in the same areas. And once they know, they will know for all time. It has been suggested that it is too onerous to expect dog owners to know speed limits. I regard that as wholly false.

It has been further suggested that it would be dangerous to require dog owners to clear up after their dogs in 40 mph limit areas, because of the higher speed of the traffic. That, too, is fallacious. The danger in such areas is not much greater than it is in areas with the lower limit—the difference is quite small. In any case, dog owners presumably walk along the pavement, and are entitled to as much protection without their dogs as with them.

In a perfect world, we might stipulate such a requirement for the verges of all roads; in practical terms, however, it is right to distinguish between roads near heavily populated areas and roads in sparsely populated areas. The clearest, most logical distinction is between 40 mph limit areas and faster roads.

We must go back to fundamentals and ask ourselves what the purpose of the Bill is. It is very clear—to protect those who find this sort of problem a nuisance. It should therefore be aimed at where the nuisance is greatest and where the number of people likely to be affected is greatest. The Bill as it stands deals sensibly with that aim, without unnecessary or confusing amendments.

Amendment No. 19 would exclude bridlepaths from the provisions of the Bill. I am attracted by the amendment; I do not dismiss it as I did the other two. I believe, however, that the designation system under clause 2 would enable a local authority to exclude bridlepaths in any case, so it is perhaps not essential to refer to them specifically.

Bridlepaths should be generally excluded because they are quite different from footpaths. They are usually country roads, often muddy, and people walk along them because they want to be on a country road. They wear different clothes and take different precautions. They want to get back to nature while out walking with their dogs. Bridlepaths often run along the edge of agricultural land. Any excreta that a dog leaves behind only adds to all the other detritus to be found on a bridlepath. Most is biodegradable anyway and can be left to nature to deal with.

Mr. John Carlisle

It is precisely because bridlepaths are meant for horses that one can find all sorts of excreta on them. Unlike dogs' excreta, horses' excreta is extremely useful for those who want to promote the growth of their roses or rhubarb. My hon. Friend is therefore on to a sound point. Walking along a bridlepath, one expects to have to pick and choose one's way with care. I do not find it unpleasant to tread in horse excreta—the same cannot be said about what dogs leave behind. Perhaps we should introduce a Bill to say that the public should be careful where they walk. They should not worry about what horses do, but they should avoid what dogs do at all costs.

Mr. Merchant

I hope that my hon. Friend never treads in anything unpleasant. I agree with his basic point, though. The purpose of the Bill is to protect people who might unexpectedly be affected by this problem, or who cannot avoid it in everyday circumstances—in parks, streets, and so on. Walking along a bridlepath is completely different: the onus is on the person using it to take care, stepping around puddles, mud and whatever else presents itself.

11.15 am
Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend was rather dismissive of the subject of footpaths, but many footpaths lead out of villages into country areas. They should surely be excluded for the same reasons, because they are not the sort of places where people might grovel around on the ground catching terrible diseases. People are likely to be wearing suitable footwear and stepping over and between puddles, mud and other things.

Mr. Merchant

My hon. Friend misunderstood me. When I used the word "footpaths" I was referring to pavements, not to dedicated footpaths where there was no traffic. I would certainly bracket such footpaths with bridlepaths for these purposes.

I was perhaps a little unkind earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, but I should like to end with an illustration in which he features. Many years ago, my hon. Friend and I went for a walk—most of it on a bridlepath—along the Berkshire Ridgeway. We took with us his dog called Freddie. Had this Bill been in force, we would have had a serious problem. In the course of our three-day trek, Freddie was responsible for producing an extremely large quantity of excreta. What on earth would we have done if we had had to pick up all of it? It would have been absurd. There was nowhere to dispose of the stuff, and by the end of our three-day journey we would have been in a decidedly unhappy state.

The anecdote shows how the Bill, in some circumstances, would not be helpful. It needs to be targeted and limited to make it protective and effective. I certainly support the Bill and commend my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). I hope that it will reach the statute book soon, and I beg my hon. Friends not to fiddle around and amend it to such an extent that it becomes absurd.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the issues that the amendments throw up. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with the various points that have arisen during our discussion. They principally concern the confusion that arises between the type of land that is to be included within the powers of the Bill and what we wish to exclude. We have the rather confusing situation whereby we have to include the exclusions in the Bill. There is a certain amount of confusion about the overlap between the different types of land.

I return to the issue of woodland, because in my constituency, for example, there is a country park, which is part of the town of Colchester, called Highwoods country park. By no stretch of the imagination could anybody say that it is not woodland. We are asked to understand that land that is used as woodland is to be excluded. It is a slightly confusing definition, because if we asked the trees whether they are using the land as woodland, they would certainly say—if they were sentient beings and could talk—"Yes, we are using this as woodland because this is where we live." If it is to work, it is important that we clarify in the Bill what is in and what is out in terms of the land that we use.

Amendment No. 12, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), which deals with sporting dogs and land used primarily for sporting purposes, raises a number of issues. I very much sympathise with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who suggested that certain types of dog should be excluded from the Bill, because trying to designate the types of land used by sporting and working dogs seems to be a rather vain exercise. It is utterly absurd to suggest that the traditional activities of fox hunting, shooting with dogs or working with terriers somehow give rise to the problem that we are seeking to address, because the problem is much more associated with urban living. I sympathise with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves), although I have to say that the problems of the urban dog apply just as much in the villages as in conurbations.

That brings me to my final point, and I would be most interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister on this issue. Local authorities already have quite significant powers to deal with dog fouling. Some local authorities use those powers to the full—Westminster council, for example, is a pioneer in keeping the streets clean of dog fouling—but others simply try to brush the problem away, because it is too complicated and requires too much manpower. Dog fouling often results in disputes between neighbours, because people often know the dog concerned and to whom it belongs, and there is a failure to enforce regulations that already exist.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), I receive correspondence from constituents on this issue. Before we give massive further powers to local authorities to deal with this urgent problem, which affects many of my constituents—as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle described, it is quite a sweeping reform—are we confident that they will be capable of exercising them effectively? What evidence do we have that they use the powers that they enjoy at the moment to the best effect?

Mr. Thomason

Does my hon. Friend agree that these provisions will supersede provisions at present contained in section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972, section 164 of the Public Health Act 1875, sections 12 and 15 of the Open Spaces Act 1906, sections 82 and 83 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907, section 41 of the Countryside Act 1968, section 1 of the Commons Act 1908, and a number of other provisions, and thereby simplify the law?

Mr. Jenkin

I should be delighted if the Bill radically simplifies the law, but I am concerned that we are expanding the scope. Byelaws that are easier to use are much easier to enact. We will presumably encourage local authorities to act against the concerns expressed to us by our constituents. Do local authorities use their present powers responsibly? That is all I ask.

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point: whether local authorities are exercising the powers already given to them, and whether those powers are sufficient. He raised the point whether, if we give them these sweeping and centralising powers, they would be exercised sensitively. That comes back to the point that we raised earlier.

Mr. Jenkin


Mr. John Carlisle

This is an important point, and my hon. Friend might know that another private Member's Bill currently going through the House, the Noise Bill, is similar in that it enables local authorities to use powers, which, I hope, will be passed by this place. Perhaps the whole tone of the Bill gives some credence to local authorities. They are many and varied by definition. Whether they ignore existing byelaws we do not know, but I fear that the good intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) may well be scuppered by environmental health officers throughout the land, and that his excellent Bill, with reservations, will be totally ignored by the local authorities.

Mr. Jenkin

I am absolutely in favour of central Government devolving more powers to local authorities wherever we can. In the past 20 or 30 years, there has, perhaps, been too much power coming in our direction and not enough going in the other direction. We need to look carefully at what additional powers we can give local authorities that we can expect them to exercise responsibly.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the interface between my two last points: how much local authorities exercise their existing powers responsibly and effectively, and the issue of sporting dogs, and in particular hunting with hounds. Will local authorities vexatiously exercise powers under the Bill to frustrate the legitimate activities of local hunts, shoots or anything of that nature? I very much hope that my hon. Friend will address those points.

Mr. Hargreaves

It is not simply a sporting argument. My hon. Friend referred to woodland. In Birmingham, there is quite a large area of council-owned woodland. It is amenity land. I refer to the woodland—Moseley bog—that is adjacent to my house in Hall Green. It is ecologically important. It is a genuine bog in the middle of a city. One could not reasonably classify it as wood for woodland purposes. It is not an area where one would find children roaming; it is covered in brambles, thickets, thorns, and so on, but it is woodland none the less. Will it come under the remit of the Bill?

Mr. Jenkin

Council-owned land is already included in the scope of existing byelaws. Councils already have those powers. That is what slightly confuses me about the Bill. It is time to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, particularly as he was about to sit down. He referred to local government byelaws. One of my local authorities, Broadland district council, has said that the Bill will remove the difficulty that local authorities experience in obtaining approval for byelaws and give them far greater discretion and flexibility. Local authorities see the present situation as complex and difficult. I hope that my hon. Friend will at least acknowledge that before he sits down.

Mr. Jenkin

I certainly acknowledge that. Nevertheless, we must not put powers into the hands of local authorities that politically correct authorities could use vexatiously and irresponsibly. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister.

11.30 am
Mr. John Carlisle

I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), but I shall not keep my hon. Friend the Minister waiting too long. He has graciously said that he will allow me to speak before he does.

Shortly after being elected to the House 17 years ago, I found myself in that place where gentlemen Members find it necessary to go to relieve themselves, standing next to an old Conservative knight of the shires who asked me my name and rank. He also asked how long I had been in the House, to which the answer was, "Two days." He said, "My boy, let me give you one word of advice: avoid two subjects—dogs and planning." On refection, and having listened to some of the altercations among some of my hon. Friends this morning, I think that he may have been right. What a pity that no Opposition Members are interested in this important subject—apart from the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong), who has gallantly sat on the Opposition Front Bench, although she has been in and out of the Chamber from time to time.

This is an important subject, but also one that many of us would desperately try to avoid. One of my early experiences in my Luton constituency was being confronted by the late Barbara Woodhouse—an enthusiast for dogs, as everybody will know—who had certain methods and advice for training dogs and horses. She reminded me of my constituency responsibilities, because at that time there were dogs running through some of the local supermarkets stealing the sausages—they were probably made of pork, even then. I remember trying to dissuade Mrs. Woodhouse from her theory that the dogs could be so well trained that they could run through a supermarket without stealing anything off the shelves.

This is a heavy political subject, which affects all of us. I have considered my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) as just that, an honourable friend, for many years, and I have spoken in his constituency, but I must tell him of my suspicion that the Bill is urban based rather than rural based.

At this moment, although possibly not after the general election, I have the advantage of representing a mixed constituency. I hasten to add, to reassure my hon. Friends, that I shall still be here after the election, but the boundary commissioners have decided that the rural side of my constituency should be hived off to another hon. Member. Obviously my majority may suffer by a penny or two, but no more than that. I now represent a very mixed constituency, so it is apt for me to make a few remarks on the Bill, and express a few reservations, which have also been expressed by some of my hon. Friends, about some aspects of it.

I share the reservations that have been expressed about giving powers to local authorities. Unfortunately, like many of my hon. Friends, I cannot say that I am especially proud of the local authority that represents me where I live in Bedfordshire, and my constituents too. On the whole, it is a free-spending authority, intent on using the powers that this place has perhaps rather foolishly given it. I fret a little that however anxious we are about giving direction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North said, the powers given by the House will be misinterpreted by local authorities, which will also probably say that they have not got the resources to implement them.

That is why it is rather sad that the Opposition Benches are so bereft of Members this morning; Opposition Members are always jumping up screaming and shouting for more money to implement any worthy Bill that Conservative Members may see fit to introduce.

I shall comment briefly on two of the amendments—No. 19, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and No. 12, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). Amendment No. 19 would insert the words: a bridleway or public footpath". That is important. As I said in an earlier intervention, a bridleway is traditionally a place where horses travel. There are many horse owners in this country, although not as many as there are dog owners, and they would find it difficult if their use of bridleways were restricted.

There are now problems with four-wheel-drive vehicles on bridleways—a great source of contention. Indeed, bridleways are almost being changed in character. Traditionally, the bridleway is somewhere for people to ride, sometimes with their dogs. It is not unusual to see people out on horses or ponies with a dog in attendance, sometimes close by and sometimes running a little way off.

When people use bridleways they know that they will not come across a bicycle, especially a mountain bike—one of the greatest scourges of modern leisure in the countryside—and that they can walk with absolute confidence, in the knowledge that they will not be mown down by any mechanised vehicle. They may be mown down by a racing horse or pony, or even by a running dog, but of course those are natural obstacles that people engaged in such leisure pursuits may find.

People walking on bridleways also expect that various animals will have deposited certain parts of their well-fed stomachs on the pathway. People who walk in such places are used to that. That is why the amendment appeals to me. It would be impossible to start talking about restrictions on such paths, and it would also be unnatural. One would be surprised if bridleways had to be used for some anaesthetised way of walking and people did not expect to find those natural obstacles.

One of my hon. Friends talked earlier about people dressing up appropriately. For example, if women walked down bridleways in 4 in heels with no form of protection, they would expect to find themselves in a certain amount of difficulty as they threaded their way between the waste of various animals deposited on the path.

Amendment No. 12 is important and should be seriously considered. Any restrictions would have a severe impact on many of our constituents who, either walking or on horseback, enjoy leisure pursuits on bridleways and public footpaths.

I also support the designation by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle of land primarily used for sporting purposes". Countryside sports of all sorts are under great threat now—mainly from the politically correct and, as far as the Opposition are concerned, the politically inept, too. We Conservatives are the champions of the freedom of country sports, so it is right that we should consider such amendments to the Bill.

Most Conservative Members support country sports, and I know that many Opposition Members do too, including the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who keeps his support rather quiet, as he does his wife's membership of the local hunt. Good for her. It is nice to see that there are Opposition Members who enjoy country sports.

It would be sad to find any restriction applied to, for example, the traditional Boxing day meets in and around village pubs and on the village green. The country sports of hunting, shooting and fishing are under enormous pressure, and although the situation is being held while the Conservative party is in government, they would be at severe risk if there were such a sad event as a change in political control.

That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle was right to bring the amendment to the attention of the House, and why my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke should make certain that no unnecessary restriction is put on sports that are under such pressure.

Most of the amendments would find favour should my hon. Friend consider that they are necessary, so most of us will be interested to hear what the Minister says. We must be careful. Out there, there are many millions of dog lovers, many of whom are our supporters, and they are looking for some sort of guidance. We must be extremely careful about restricting their freedom in what has become a traditional British way of life. No one loves their dogs more than do the British—in some cases somewhat stupidly, in terms of the affection that we show to those lovely animals—and I do not want the Bill to try to halt or in any way restrict that wonderful love affair.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to reply to a good debate in which many important concerns have been ventilated. It is a great pleasure, among other things, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), who brought his customary dash of colour to the debate and spoke with true feeling on the subject of life in the countryside and perhaps echoed many of the concerns expressed by hon. Members in the debate. I hope that I will be able to allay some of those concerns.

This group of amendments seems to have brought into focus many of the important issues regarding the Bill. Before I deal with them, however, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on the very clear way in which he explained his amendments and on the way in which he has taken the Bill through its proceedings in the House. I am sure that he will not mind my saying that he has been concerned throughout the proceedings to explain clearly the Bill's purpose and to listen to the concerns that have been expressed to him, to which he has responded clearly.

The Bill is very worth while and is much desired by many local authorities and individuals—by dog owners and non-dog owners. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has been very careful throughout the Bill's passage to try to respond to the concerns expressed to him so as to target the Bill correctly, making it simpler for local authorities to tackle the problem of dog fouling.

Mr. Fabricant

While some dog owners have expressed some concern about the Bill, will the Minister confirm that the Kennel Club, the RSPCA, the National Canine Defence League and the Pets Advisory Committee are in favour of it?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. There is no division or distinction in the Bill between dog owners and non-dog owners; it is desired by both groups of people.

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) has made a good point. Had he been at Crufts last weekend and met members of the Kennel Club and others, such as breeders, he would realise that, although there is general support for the Bill's principles, there is serious concern about its scope.

Mr. Clappison

I shall shortly deal in detail with the important question of scope. but I should like to lay that point firmly to rest in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) did. As he rightly said, the Bill has been warmly welcomed by dog owners and by those who represent them because they want to promote responsible dog ownership. The Bill will do precisely that by making it easier for local authorities to deal with the problem of dog fouling, by simplifying and streamlining the way in which they enforce regulations to deal with the problem.

Amendment Nos. 1 and 6, which were spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, are sensible—for the reasons that he set out. The House will be aware that it is possible for landowners, whose land the public have access to, to exempt themselves from the Bill's provisions under clause 3(1)(b). I shall return shortly to that very important provision because it is relevant to some of the issues that have been raised about activities that occur in the countryside and in other places as well.

Clause 6 also has the effect that where there is an existing byelaw on land that is designated under the new system, the new byelaw will take effect rather than the old one. That provision causes a problem for those who have a byelaw under private Act powers and would have the effect, unless the amendment were passed, of overriding the power to maintain existing byelaws. I think that it is appropriate—for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, in the circumstances of a person, institution or company that has the benefit of a private Act power or byelaw—for them to be put effectively into the same position as a private landlord and to have the opportunity to exclude themselves from designation under this legislation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke so rightly said, that provision will also prevent complications where land is in the ownership of more than one local authority. This is, therefore, a most sensible amendment, and I suggest that the House would wish to support it for the reasons given by my hon. Friend.

11.45 am
Mr. Hargreaves

On the point of exclusion, will it have to be a positive exclusion, or is there an implicit exclusion in the amendment?

Mr. Clappison

I should draw my hon. Friend's attention to amendment No. 6, which says: Where a private Act confers powers for the regulation of any land, the person entitled to exercise those powers may, by notice in writing given to the local authority in whose area the land is situated, exclude the application of this Act to that land. That is a sensible procedure for someone to go through to exclude his land and to give notice to the local authority. So the answer to my hon. Friend's point is that those people have to take the positive step of giving notice. That is a sensible course to take, and, of course, it makes everyone aware—certainly the local authority—of the position in regard to that land.

Amendment Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8 are sensible. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has been most careful to ensure that the scope of the Act applies widely and appropriately, subject to certain exclusions. As he explained to the House, the Bill as drafted relies on the definition of roads in the Road Traffic Regulation Acts. That would have the effect of excluding many of the areas that my hon. Friend wishes to bring within the Bill's ambit. He is, therefore, remedying that by relying on the definition of carriageway given in the Road Traffic Act 1980, which more effectively gives effect to his underlying intention. If the Bill were not amended in that way, it would produce some rather unusual results, and various areas not subject to any speed limit, such as various pedestrian areas and walkways, would be excluded. I therefore suggest that the amendment is sensible and clarifies the Bill's scope.

I do not propose to say any more about the amendments. They are all sensible amendments that tidy up the operation of the Bill.

I shall say a little more about amendment No. 4, which caused some concern to hon. Members. It is important that their legitimate concerns are laid to rest. Amendment No. 4 seeks to remove the exclusion of all national park land. As the Bill stands, national park land is excluded from the Bill, so it is impossible for a local authority to apply for designation within national parks. The amendment would remove the exclusion and give local authorities in national parks the ability to designate, for example, streets and recreational land in towns and villages within national parks. That is an important point, and I invite the House to consider it most carefully.

The House will understand that, even without amendment No. 4, under the other exclusions proposed in the Bill, much of the area of a national park will be excluded in any event. Land that is used, for example, for agriculture or for woodlands or which is predominantly moor or heath is currently excluded. The effect of maintaining the exclusion for national parks would be to exclude other areas inside national parks that do not fall into those categories and to take away from local authorities the opportunity to make designations in respect of those areas.

Mr. Jenkin

Although I have been in another part of the Chamber, I have been listening carefully to what my hon. Friend has said.

Will my hon. Friend dwell for a moment on the issue of land used for woodland? What is his advice about the definition of such land? Does he agree with the definition offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), that it is land that is actively managed for timber, or is that land covered by a much wider definition to include land that happens to be enclosed, or not, as an area that contains trees?

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend's important point is worth analysing. My understanding is that the meaning of "woodland" is that given to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) to the wording of clause 1(3)(a), which excludes land used for agriculture or for woodlands". The inclusion of the word "for" is important.

Judged in the context of the other exclusion contained in that paragraph—"land used for agriculture"—the exemption includes the type of land that is actively used or managed for agriculture and for woodlands. It does not include the type of area about which my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North is concerned—woodland per se—which is not actively managed as woodland.

I know that that might have the unfortunate effect of excluding the type of woodlands to which my hon. Friend has already referred—for example, those on Hampstead heath. One of the things that I enjoy about debates on a private Member's Bill is that one finds out lots of things one did not know. I did not know, for example, that there were woodlands on Hampstead heath.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Whips will be extremely pleased to know that he is not familiar with Hampstead heath?

Mr. Clappison

I must tell my hon. Friend that I once frequented a public house that was near Hampstead heath, but that did not involve me walking on the heath and becoming familiar with the nature of it or the recreational activities of whatever nature that take place on it. I am sure that they include many people walking their dogs.

Mr. Hargreaves

May I take my hon. Friend a short distance up the motorway from Hampstead heath, to Birmingham, where there are many woodlands—in particular, Moseley bog, although why that should have anything to do with Hampstead heath, I do not know. Around Birmingham, residents of the towns use woodlands—natural areas—as much as those that are frequented in the countryside.

It would be ludicrous to suppose that those urban woodlands come within the compass of the Bill. They have brambles and bracken, and the ecological system is perfectly capable of dealing with anything that any dogs may leave behind. By and large, it is dog owners who keep the footpaths open through that area. I beg my hon. Friend to consider the Bill's effect on the normal users of that wood, which is classified as a conservation area.

Mr. Clappison

I entirely understand the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed. He speaks with feeling about woods in his constituency. I too have a constituency interest in woodland, because my constituency includes part of the Watling Chase community forest.

I hope that I can assure my hon. Friend and other colleagues who have expressed concern that designation will depend upon the decision of a local authority. If it would be ludicrous to designate an area as a poop-scoop area, that should occur to the local authority members and those who are represented by it.

I take into account, however, the important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North about the character of some local authorities and how little note they sometimes take of the concerns of their local residents. On this issue, however, I hope that local authorities would bear in mind residents' concern.

The issue of national parks is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is a good shepherd to his constituents, and is anxious to sniff out their concerns. He did just that on behalf of the Macclesfield and District Sheep Dog Trials Association. He was concerned about the interests of towns in his constituency that fall within a national park. Other hon. Members expressed similar concerns.

Hon. Members should consider that there may be important reasons why byelaws should be designated in parts of our national parks, particularly in the smaller towns and urban communities, of which there are a number. On reflection, hon. Members may accept that it is important that local authorities should have the opportunity to designate areas within a national park.

Some of the smaller urban communities in national parks are often subject to great pressures because of the number of tourists who visit recreational areas and open spaces. In those circumstances, there might be good reasons for local authorities wanting to designate an area as a poop-scoop area. That would help to avoid some of the problems of mess and nuisance that may otherwise be caused by irresponsible dog owners.

Mr. Jenkin

But surely most village car parks or village greens are owned by local authorities anyway. If land is not owned by the state, either central or local government, the Bill should provide a mechanism for the owner of that land to apply to the local authority for the application of certain byelaws.

Perhaps the Bill is approaching the problem from the wrong angle. Rather than trying to designate every type of land over which a local authority should have power, the policy should work in reverse. The owners of the land should have the power to initiate the process, and apply to the local authority for that authority to apply byelaws to their land. If the owner of the land does not apply, the local authority would not have the power to apply byelaws.

Mr. Clappison

I am always sympathetic to my hon. Friend's argument on behalf of the freedom of the individual, the right of individual choice and the right of individuals to make decisions for themselves rather than have them taken for them. I invite him, however, to consider the important purpose that lies behind the Bill. It is designed to make it easier for local authorities to impose byelaws and to remove any unnecessary procedures or bureaucracy that stand in the way of designating areas for enforcement of the appropriate byelaw. We must be alive to that consideration.

I invite my hon. Friend to look at clause 3(1)(a). I know that the terms of that paragraph will not satisfy him entirely, because he wants to tackle the problem from the other direction and enable the individual to initiate the action rather than the local authority. He will be aware that clause 3(1)(b) states: the owner, occupier or other person or authority having control of the land has the right to withdraw his consent from the byelaw where that is designated by the local authority.

Mr. Jenkin

Hear, hear.

Mr. Clappison

I note my hon. Friend's positive response. The terms of that paragraph are important.

I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North and other colleagues are concerned about the terms of the Bill. It is for local authorities, however, to make the relevant decision. They will no doubt be influenced by the views of local residents. That argument applies as much to national parks as it does to other areas.

On reflection, I am sure that hon. Members will take the view that, notwithstanding their concerns about national parks, it is important for national parks to be treated in exactly the same way as any other area. They will then benefit from the same exclusions, if that is the right way to put it, but also have the same opportunities for designation where local authorities in national parks think it appropriate. If we did not accept the amendment, residents from such communities, who may be especially affected by the problem of dog mess caused by the pressure of visiting dog owners in certain months of the year, would soon be asking why they were not included in the Bill and why their local authorities should find it so difficult to have byelaws. They would want to know why they could not go through the designation procedure that applied to everyone else. There is no good reason why they should not.

The House knows that, under the present system, the passage and enforcement of byelaws can be a time-consuming process. Often, it cannot be done in 18 months, but can take as much as three years. National park residents may not want to be subject to the old, cumbersome machinery but instead want to take the opportunity to use the new system of designation. I hope that that has answered hon. Members' concerns.

12 noon

I come next to marshlands. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North I do not want to make a mountain out of a molehill and I certainly do want to go barking up the wrong tree.

Amendment No. 5 is sensible. The power that local authorities will have to designate land in their area will mean a considerable saving in administrative time and resources. They will also be able to cover wider areas than they currently can to which the public are entitled to have access.

I note some of the reservations that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke referred to in setting that out, especially those on local authorities' ability to designate other sorts of land, such as marshland, under the Bill. The mind boggles at how the Bill might be enforced in marshland. I agree with my hon. Friend that a requirement to clear up after dogs in marshland areas would be unsuitable. Such designation is unnecessary. I am happy to accept amendment No. 5.

Amendment No. 12 was tabled my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), and deals with land used primarily for sporting purposes. That is an interesting issue. I know that he is a great countryman, and speaks for a country area where there will be great interest in such matters.

It is not in any way the Bill's intention to involve in its ambit country sports or any sporting activities in the countryside. I do not think that the issues about which my hon. Friend is concerned necessarily arise. I draw his attention to the exclusions in the Bill. If he looks at them in the round and takes them together, I think that he will be satisfied that their extent will meet any possible mischief or problem that he might foresee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle will have noticed that the Bill excludes land used for agriculture or for woodlands", and private land to which the public do not have access—a most important point. On private land to which the public have access, the owner can, under clause 3, give or withhold his consent to the imposition of the Bill. The owner has the opportunity to withdraw from designation.

The sum of those exemptions, especially the opportunities for owners to opt out of designation, meets the concerns about the wide variety of sporting activities in the countryside to which my hon. Friend referred. I am conscious that there are several sports lovers here, including my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North, who are concerned about the environment as a whole, and concerned as responsible pet owners. They need not be concerned. On that basis, I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle to consider whether he wishes to persist with his amendment.

Mr. Leigh

I am grateful for the careful way in which my hon. Friend the Minister is trying to deal with my general points about the Bill's impact on rural areas, but I want to press him further.

Of course the Bill will not apply to agricultural land or to where hunts go over farmland, but it could apply to verges and the centres of villages, and it could be used by local authorities as an instrument to attack hunts. On shoots on the edges of villages, people cross roads and often shoot close to villages. We need an absolute assurance that local authorities that are opposed to legitimate country sporting interests cannot in any way use the Bill to attack those interests. I think that my hon. Friend is making that point, but I want it firmly on the record.

Mr. Clappison

I am trying hard to give my hon. Friend the assurance that I think he will find in the Bill. I clearly understand the point he makes about the wide variety of sporting interests, such as hunting, shooting and fishing, which involve dogs.

Ms Armstrong


Mr. Clappison

The hon. Lady may be aware of the fact that fishermen often enjoy taking their dogs with them.

Mr. John Carlisle

On a point of elucidation for the hon. Lady while we are talking about dogs and fishing—perhaps she should be aware that the labrador, of which I am a proud owner, was originally a fishing dog, and was used in Canada to bring fish out of the water. When fishermen who are trying to land a catch have difficulty in bringing it on to the bank, they often ask their dog to help them. Heaven help us if, apart from his keep net, each fisherman had to carry a pooper scoop.

Mr. Clappison

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his compendious knowledge of sporting activities, into which he has superb personal insight. Having had the benefit of his knowledge on the Bill's impact on sporting activities, I think that the House can say that there will have been no dogs that did not bark in the night. I hope that I have been able to give my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle the reassurance he seeks.

I should now like to move on to the wider issues involving country areas, and amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which deal with roads and verges. I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friends have said on the subject. We must look at the exclusions contained in the Bill and bear it in mind that the decision has to be taken, in the first instance, by the local authority.

One hopes that, when places such as verges in country areas or other land close to roads are not excluded under the Bill, local authorities will use a bit of common sense. Sometimes local people will be concerned to ensure that such areas are kept free of dog mess, which can be as big a problem in those areas as in others which are more obvious candidates for inclusion as designated areas.

Mr. Hargreaves

I do not share my hon. Friend's confidence in local authorities' ability to show sensitivity or good faith. The fact that so many local authorities are populated by people similar to the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong), who does not have a dog and has no sympathy for dog owners—she has shown by all the remarks she has made, and will no doubt show by those she is about to make, that she falls into that category—demonstrates my point. We should not trust local authorities to make sensitive decisions on the matter, and I strongly urge my hon. Friend sympathetically to consider the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason).

Mr. Clappison

I have listened carefully to the good points that have been made. Local authorities currently have the power to make byelaws. The measure merely streamlines the means by which they can be brought into force, and avoids some of the problems that have arisen from the present time-consuming procedure.

I am wary about irresponsible local authorities that do not heed local opinion. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) might draw reassurance from the fact that there have been many celebrated cases in which local authorities have not behaved sensibly over byelaws. In some cases, local authorities have stimulated great controversy over the issue of imposing byelaws that affect dog owners.

Nothing infuriates people in this country more than inappropriate byelaws—that applies to both views: those who want the byelaws and those who do not. There are a large number of dog owners in this country—2 million dog owners are members of the Kennel Club; there are about 5 million or 6 million dog owners and 7 million dogs in this country. Any local authority that does not behave sensibly will find itself in a lot of trouble and controversy with people who feel passionately about the subject, even though they do not always become exercised about politics generally.

Mr. Thomason

Does the Minister agree that it would be an absurd situation for a bridle path or a public footway that crosses over agricultural land—which is clearly excluded by the Bill—to be designated in the manner required by the Bill? Is that not a nonsense that should be avoided?

Mr. Clappison

I am certainly alive to the concerns that have been expressed. If my hon. Friends reflect carefully, they will see that the concerns are met in many respects on the face of the Bill. I am alive to the points that have been made about bridleways and about long-distance walkers, and the effect that the Bill may have on them. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) shared an interesting experience with us about his long-distance walk with Freddie.

One hopes that there is common sense in this regard—that those who venture on long-distance walks do not have to carry pooper scoops and that these regulations are used in a sensible way.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend the Minister is dealing with these points with tremendous care. Following the previous intervention, it occurs to me that many of these bridleways and footpaths run across private land—that they are merely rights of way and that they do not comprise land. Therefore, the provision allowing private landowners to opt their land out of the Bill conflicts with the provision to designate bridleways and footpaths. How does that work in law? Can the owner of the land opt the bridleway out of the Bill by virtue of it being on his land?

Mr. Clappison

Clause 3(1)(b) contains the answer to my hon. Friend's concern. It states: the owner, occupier or other person or authority having control of the land has consented (generally or specifically) to his failing to do so"— that is, the failure to use the pooper scoop. That range of definitions, that variety of authorities, which the clause contemplates being able to opt out of the Bill will meet my hon. Friend's concerns.

Mr. Thomason

I suggest to my hon. Friend that that may not be the effect of clause 3(1)(b), because no occupier or other person has control of the land on which the footpath is sited and is open to the general public. There might be an owner, but the ownership of the freehold of bridlepaths, particularly where they have become green lanes, is often not easy to determine. Therefore, the consent—which is, in any event, a positive action—may not be easily available.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is a lawyer of some distinction and experience, and it may well be that, in his branch of the law, he has had some experience of rights of way, an important issue that comes before those involved in the law. It had been my impression that there was a satisfactory exemption under clause 3. Before I vanish into the mists of legal technicality and the law on rights of way, I shall address my hon. Friend's concerns by writing to him on the subject.

Mr. Leigh

I am worried about this: it shows up the problem of discussing the Bill in such detail so late in the process—although I am rather glad we are. I know that the Minister is doing his best, but I believe that he has not answered the serious point made by my hon. Friends on clause 3(1)(b), which will now be known as the Ridgeway point.

The Ridgeway is a series of long-distance footpaths, and I do not think, on the face of the Bill, that it will be excluded. There is no obvious owner. In parts, the Ridgeway is as wide as the Chamber, and it runs for 150 miles. I do not know whether anyone owns it—someone may in theory. It is a huge, long-distance footpath that is used by tens of thousands of dog owners every year. To be fair, the Minister has not answered the point. We should have an answer before we finish the proceedings this morning.

Mr. Clappison

I may not be familiar with Hampstead heath, but I am familiar with long-distance footpaths—which hon. Members may doubt, and I shall keep to myself how far I get along them.

The answer to my hon. Friend's point is that there are exemptions on the face of the Bill, but we return to the concept of local authorities exercising their common sense. As I said in reply to an earlier intervention, no part of the Bill confers more power on local authorities to make regulations than they currently have. The Bill is about the means whereby local authorities can bring the byelaws into effect. My hon. Friend should draw reassurance from that.

Mr. Hargreaves


Mr. Jenkin


Mr. Clappison

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North but first I should say to him that he may be, but I was not, aware of a problem of byelaws being imposed inappropriately on footpaths and long-distance ways by local authorities under their existing regulations.

12.15 pm
Mr. Jenkin

I hope it is in order for me to raise a more general issue. My hon. Friend is not responsible for the Bill—it is a private Member's Bill—but what consultations has he undertaken with local authorities about all these complex legal matters and about the practical issue of enforcement and the scope of enforcement? Will he give us an idea whether local authorities generally support the Bill, and whether he has discussed all those technicalities with them?

Mr. Clappison

I appreciate the fact that the Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, but my Department has received many representations from local authorities and individuals, including Members of the House, about the Bill. The technicalities that most worry them are those that have delayed the adoption of byelaws in the past, causing delay that has sometimes run into years. All that time, residents have been asking for the byelaws, and the process has been held up because, unhappily, the making of byelaws can be a time-consuming, burdensome process.

Mr. Hargreaves

My hon. Friend is being very patient with us, but I return to the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) in his amendment. Footpaths run from my constituency to his, passing from the urban area out of the city of Birmingham into the leafy shire of Hereford and Worcester, through fields and meadows.

I am afraid that an officious council, teamed by people of political correctness—people who have no sympathy with dog owners—would automatically impose a blanket designation on all areas for which it might have responsibility. Does that mean that every owner of land adjacent to those public footpaths—paths such as my hon. Friend the Minister likes to take long walks along—or of land over which they run will have to write individually and say that they are content for dogs to roam across that land? Surely that is unrealistic.

Mr. Clappison

I appreciate, and sometimes share, my hon. Friend's concern about some things that some local authorities get up to. As far as I am aware, there is no evidence of local authorities having interfered with long-distance footpaths in the way that worries my hon. Friend, but there is no limit to the stupid things that local authorities sometimes do.

I draw reassurance from what I said earlier. So many people take a responsible attitude on this subject, as dog owners or non-dog owners, and so many people enjoy recreation or sporting activities, that it would be a foolish local authority that incurred their wrath. I remind the House that there are examples of local authorities that have incurred that wrath and lived to regret it.

It would not be entirely sensible to incorporate amendment No. 20 into the Bill. I do not see its merits. It would reduce the number of roads to which the Bill could apply. To ensure consistency in local areas, all roads that might benefit should be included. It would be unnecessary to exclude some roads running through urban areas.

The amendment would reduce the areas covered by the Bill. We want to ensure that the maximum benefit is achieved from the legislation; the amendment would not improve the Bill's effectiveness.

I turn now to amendments Nos. 11 and 12, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle. I have already answered my hon. Friend's question about woodlands and agriculture. I can give him the assurance he seeks: it is on the face of the Bill, at clause 1(3)(a), which refers to land used for agriculture. I think that that represents a pretty clear and effective exemption of agricultural land. Therefore, amendment No. 11 is not necessary, although I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses on behalf of the agricultural sector. I know that he represents an important agricultural constituency.

Amendment No. 22 stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire. He has particular concerns about toxocariasis, which can pose a health risk. I listened carefully to his comments—he certainly made an interesting contribution to the debate. My hon. Friend drew on his personal experiences from when he lived in Rottingdean. I regret to inform the House that I have mispronounced "Rottingdean" for many years, and, in so doing, no doubt have offended many of its residents. However, I have now learnt its correct pronunciation.

Mr. Fabricant

I dread to think how he pronounced it.

Mr. Clappison

I am tempted by my hon. Friend, but I shall not stray down that path.

I do not think that amendment No. 22 is entirely appropriate. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, but it is important to allow beaches—including that part of the seaside between the low and high water marks, to which the amendment refers—to be designated areas. Local authorities must consider carefully the issue of pets on beaches. Although the area is cleaned by the sea, that will not occur at certain times of day.

My hon. Friend told us of his experiences as a young Michael Fabricant with a bucket and spade. No doubt the youngsters of today will behave in the same manner, and they may also be attracted to that part of the seaside at that time of day. It is important that local authorities are able to deal with the problem if they consider that appropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green mentioned towpaths, particularly those along the canals in the vicinity of his constituency. Earlier this week, I had the great pleasure of travelling along part of the waterway not far from my hon. Friend's constituency. It is a very attractive place, and walking along the towpath must be a pleasant experience.

However, I do not accept my hon. Friend's case for excluding towpaths from designation when it is considered appropriate to do so. Towpaths fall into the same category as many other designated areas: they should be designated if local authorities think that that is appropriate and if local residents request it.

That is not to say that responsible dog owners should be restricted in using those towpaths, which no doubt are a source of recreation to them and a place to enjoy their dogs' company. However, there is no reason why that area should be treated differently from other areas in designation terms.

I listened carefully to the points advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. I have dealt with his question about long-distance footpaths. As to the question of the 40 mph limit, I believe that the present line is sensibly drawn. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's arguments, but I agree with the original intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham to reflect on that point.

Mr. Merchant

That was precisely what I said. I agree with what the promoter of the Bill originally had in mind.

Mr. Clappison

I am pleased about that, as my hon. Friend made an excellent speech that showed a close understanding of the Bill and great concern to support its intentions.

I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North on what is in the Bill and what is not. I hope that the exclusions in the Bill are straightforward. I reiterate my original reply to him: it is a matter for local authorities and one hopes that they will be sensible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has tabled some important amendments. My hon. Friends raised interesting arguments in support of the other amendments, but they are not necessarily entirely consistent with the aims and spirit of the measure, which is widely welcomed by the public and by local authorities, and by dog owners and non-dog owners alike. I invite my hon. Friends to consider withdrawing their amendments.

Mr. Hunter

We have spent nearly three hours discussing this group of amendments, and I shall now accelerate the process. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to many aspects of the debate and there is no need for me to cover that ground again; however, I should like to make one or two observations.

My hon. Friends and the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Ms Armstrong) will recall that last year we considered a Bill bearing the same name. It had the same aims, but was slightly different in some respects. It passed through the Commons, went to the Lords and there ran out of time because the very issues that my hon. Friends have raised today were raised last year, and there was not sufficient time for their Lordships to deal with them.

I wished to be sure that this year's version addressed the points that have been raised. I consulted the British Field Sports Society and the Bill received that society's blessing. Nevertheless, some serious points have been raised, particularly those relating to amendment No. 19.

I regret that we did not debate the Bill on Second Reading. That is always unfortunate. The debate in Committee lasted perhaps 45 minutes or an hour, and there were no amendments. It can indeed be argued that the Bill has reached this point with insufficient scrutiny, but I hope that my hon. Friends will remember that it will go from here to another place.

Last year, their Lordships were profoundly dissatisfied with the Bill that came before them, and they will carefully study our debate this morning. I emphasise my sympathy with many of the arguments in support of amendment No. 19, but I hope that my hon. Friends will withdraw their amendments and support those in my name, if only to give them the benefit of the doubt, because this is not the end of proceedings.

Mr. Thomason

I am happy not to move amendment No. 19 on the basis of the assurances that have been given, and equally not to press amendment No. 20, taking into account the comments that have been made.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 1, line 9, leave out first 'road' and insert `highway which comprises a carriageway'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 9, leave out second 'road' and insert 'carriageway'.

No. 4, in page 1, leave out line 14.

No. 5, in page 1, line 15, after 'predominantly', insert `marshland,'.

No. 6, in page 1, line 18, at end insert— `(3A) Where a private Act confers powers for the regulation of any land, the person entitled to exercise those powers may, by notice in writing given to the local authority in whose area the land is situated, exclude the application of this Act to that land.'

No. 7, in page 1, line 26, at end insert— ' "carriageway" has the same meaning as in the Highways Act 1980;'.

No. 8, in page 2, leave out line 3.—[Mr. Hunter.]

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