HL Deb 02 February 1965 vol 262 cc1085-97

2.51 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships have no doubt read the Bill and know what its purpose is. I have received a great number of letters approving of the Bill and, as might be expected, a few in the contrary sense. Let me make it clear, first of all, to remove any such illusion, that this Bill is not motivated by any dislike of dogs; quite the contrary. So far as I am concerned, I am very fond of dogs, and I hope that they like me. When I was a small child living in the Canadian prairie far away from any other habitation my constant companion and guardian was a dog, and I have not forgotten that. This Bill is directed to what I hope is a small minority of dog owners who do not control their dogs, but allow them to become nuisances to the general public.

I am sure all your Lordships are quite familiar with the fact that in cities such as this, one finds day after day the pavements defiled by excrement of dogs which are allowed by the owners to excrete on the pavement. This is not only offensive and incompatible with the dignity of civilised life, but also insanitary and dangerous. I have received complaints about this from many parts of England, Wales and Scotland. Only a short time ago, when I went out of my front door one evening at six o'clock, I found the matron of a day nursery which is situated just beside my house busy washing down the steps with a bucket and a mop. A dog had got in and had fouled the entrance to the day nursery, and she was busy cleaning it up to prepare for the children who were coming in the morning. This is a matter which particularly affects housewives, from many of whom I have received complaints of a similar nature. One unfortunate lady, for example, told me about how her small child fell on the pavement and had her clothing defiled, some of it so badly that it had to be destroyed. I do not think I need emphasise this, because I feel that it is within your Lordships' knowledge.

Many of your Lordships no doubt also know that by-laws are made by a number of local authorities which make it an offence to let a dog on a lead foul the footpath. These by-laws, in my experience, are not obeyed. In many cases they are not advertised—the citizens do not know of their existence; and, in any case, they are not enforced. If they were enforced, and if proceedings were taken, it would no doubt be reported in the local Press and might lead to some improvement. In addition, the penalty is very small. Therefore, the first purpose of the Bill is to make it part of the general law of this country, and not a matter of local by-laws, that it is an offence to permit a dog to foul the pavement; and the second purpose is to raise the penalties to a level which is more appropriate to the economic circumstances of this country as they now are, because the fines which the by-laws generally impose represent a quite negligible amount.

The next question which required consideration was to what area of the country any legislation of this kind should apply. I have proposed in this Bill that it should apply to what one may, legally speaking, describe as an urban area; and for that purpose I have borrowed, with some modification, a definition which is contained in the Road Traffic Acts, and have defined it as a place where there is street lighting. It is obvious that one cannot control it in terms of local authority areas, because many urban districts contain considerable areas to which it is not necessary to apply any provision of this kind.

The next point to which I want to direct attention is the question of enforcement. As I have said, at the present moment the by-laws in most places are not enforced. So far as I am aware, the police pay no attention to them whatsoever; and in many cases the local authorities who make them also do not seem to bother. I have therefore proposed that enforcement should be in the hands of either the police or the local authority, in the hope that at any rate one or other of them will see that something is done about this grievance. Secondly, the by-laws which are made refer to dogs which are on a lead. They are, therefore, very easily evaded by the owners letting their dogs run free without any lead; and day after day I see dogs let out in the morning for this purpose without any attempt to control them. Therefore, I have proposed that where dogs are found straying—by which I mean, out of control of their owners—the police or the local authority shall have the power to take and detain them; and if the owner then reclaims his dog, he should pay for the expenses which have been incurred in the detention.

Some of your Lordships will remember that we had a debate some time ago, which was initiated by my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, with regard to dogs, and, in particular, to accidents in the streets caused by dogs This is another reason why it is desirable that dogs which are found straying in the streets should be taken and detained. I noticed recently that in Birmingham last year 1,640 dogs were involved in accidents in the streets. A considerable number of the dogs themselves were killed in these accidents, and in a much smaller proportion of cases there were also people injured. As traffic in the streets becomes denser and denser, the danger of dogs, untrained and uncontrolled, being allowed to roam in the streets becomes all the greater.

My Lords, I should mention that I have had a letter from the Association of District Councils in Scotland approving of this measure, desiring (which the Bill does not do at the present moment) that the powers thereby conferred should be extended to district councils as well as to other local authorities. The National Dog Owners' Association, with the work of which I dare say some of your Lordships are familiar, have also intimated that they approve of this in principle but they would desire, if the Bill obtained a Second Reading, that some modification should be made: in particular, that, if it is possible, an owner should be notified that his dog is detained; that the period within which it should be claimed should be extended to three weeks instead of two weeks; that dogs should be destroyed only if a suitable home cannot be found for them, and that they should in any case, of course, not be destroyed with any cruelty. That, I think, would always be the case. But so far as I am concerned, if amendments of that kind commended themselves to your Lordships I should be very happy to accept them.

Let me repeat that this is not a Bill which is intended to discourage people from having dogs; it is merely a Bill which is designed to encourage them to handle and to train their dogs properly—a thing which is perfectly easy. After all, dogs are domestic animals, and have been so for many thousands of years. They are affectionate and amenable to discipline and, therefore, no hardship is imposed upon anybody who likes to take the trouble to control his dog. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Douglas of Barloch.)

3.4 p.m


moved, as an Amendment, to leave out "now" and after "2a" to insert "this day six months". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be read this day six months, which to put it in plain language, means that I am inviting the House to reject the Bill. I do not deny that there is a certain amount of fouling of pavements, but I think my noble friend has made far too much of it. I believe that he is grossly exaggerating both the nuisance and the ill-health (about which he did not elaborate) caused.

We are a nation of dog lovers—at least we pride ourselves on being so. There are over 2 million dogs licensed in this country although, of course, there are considerably more dogs if we count also those that are not yet of an age requiring them to be licensed. Of those dogs, something like, I should guess, 1½ million inhabit towns and places to which this Bill would apply. A large number of these dogs are great friends of their owners and are pets. In many cases they are companions. For many old people, dogs provide the only companionship they have, and anything we did that affected this relationship, and made it harder for old folk, blind people, and others who keep dogs for companionship and health, would be rendering a great disservice to a considerable section of the population. It is because I believe that this Bill would be rendering such a disservice that I am strongly opposed to it.

The vast majority of dogs, I think, are orderly, well-behaved and do not foul pavements. But dogs are uncontrollable, especially male dogs who have a predilection for lamp-posts; and I imagine that, under the terms of the Bill, any action as against a lamp-post would be regarded as an offence. However well-trained a dog may be, there are occasions when it really is uncontrollable; and to make such action an offence punishable by law is going much too far. And, frankly, I believe that we have far more important things to do at the present time.

I have referred to old people. There are also, of course, blind people who rely on dogs to take them about. There is no guarantee that in no circumstances will a blind man's dog foul a pavement, or even an open space. Sometimes dogs are exercised by children. If a child is in charge of a dog which happens to foul a pavement, is it the intention that either the child or the owner of the dog should be punished? Then there are police dogs. Even they sometimes nod; and one cannot guarantee that, however well trained a police dog may be, it will never offend against this Bill, if it is made law. I am told that there are sheep dogs which are taken to market. Sometimes they foul the market. What about them?

We really do not want to multiply offences of this kind, and to provide for a penalty of £20 for each offence after the first is monstrous. It indicates, if I may respectfully say so to my noble friend, the kind of approach that he has to this question. It is, after all, I would say—and my noble friend will understand it—de minimis. It is not a thing with which we should trouble the Legislature. The more effective thing would be to induce local authorities to clean their streets daily. That would solve the whole problem. I do not thing I need elaborate the hardships.

Now let us look at the question of enforcement. At the moment, there are a number of local authorities who have by- laws which, as my noble friend said, are not being enforced. They are supposed to be enforced by local inspectors. I imagine that they are not being enforced because the local inspectors have far more important things to do; and if you want the by-laws enforced you must appoint more local inspectors. No local authority is either willing or able to get more local inspectors. They are very short. Every local authority could do with more local inspectors to enforce these by-laws. How it came about that local authorities asked for these by-laws I do not know, but it may be a reflection (I say this with great respect to my noble friend Lord Merthyr) of the fact that Private Bills are not sufficiently scrutinised. At any rate, we know that many of these things go through in Private Bills which perhaps closer investigation reveals ought not to. I admit that there are a number of local by-laws, but, as my noble friend says, they are not being enforced.

My Lords, if this Bill became general law it would be for the police to enforce it. Can noble Lords imagine the police being diverted from their efforts to deal with crime, or with the increasing number of motor offences, to go chasing dogs to see if they are fouling pavements or open spaces? Do your Lordships think that that would be a legitimate use of the police? Admitting that there is some nuisance in a limited number of cases, do your Lordships think that the public would be prepared for our police, who, in any case, I am afraid, are able to detect something like only 50 per cent. of the crimes that are committed in this country, to be diverted away from detecting that crime to the pursuit of dogs which happen to be using lamp-posts or are otherwise fouling the pavements? It seems to me fantastic that anyone could consider such a thing.

I cannot think that your Lordships will want to pass this Bill. If it is given a Second Reading, I cannot imagine that it will go through Committee, and I hope that we shall reject this Bill this afternoon without any further question. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— To leave out ("now") and, after ("2a"), insert ("this day six months")—(Lord Silkin.)

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the speeches of the two noble Lords who preceded me, and I am ready to say at once, of course, that the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, has introduced this Bill very persuasively and made it perfectly clear that the Bill is not aimed against dogs so much as against their owners. On the other hand, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, put the matter into fair perspective and demonstrated the relative importance, or perhaps I may say unimportance, of this Bill.

When I heard about this Bill I was very intrigued. This question of dogs in London and in towns in general is a very intriguing problem, and I was particularly intrigued to discover how the noble Lord proposed to set about preventing dogs from doing their private business exactly where and when they wanted to. Having read the Bill, and after listening to the speech of the noble Lord, I find that one of his main methods for doing this is to increase the penalty. In other words, he wishes to introduce a larger deterrent than already exists under local by-laws. I would say that anybody on being fined once for allowing his dog to foul a pavement or public place adjacent to a footway would be sufficiently annoyed by losing £5 in that way to take every reasonable step to prevent it from happening again. I do not believe that an increased fine up to £20 would really have any significant effect on whether or not this offence was committed a second time; and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the sum of £20 is really altogether too large for such a trivial offence, especially when we come to consider that the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said that this Bill is aimed against only a small minority of dog owners. It does seem rather as though he is bringing a sledge-hammer to crack a nut.

I also approach this problem from the point of view of the dog. I am a dog owner and a dog lover. I have two small dogs in my house at this moment. Neither of them is actually mine; they belong to my family; but for a long period I had a most beloved and wonderful boxer of which I thought highly enough to bring it with me all the way from Southern Rhodesia when I returned to this country some years ago. That dog brought up my four small children in my household, guarding them in their prams, watching them in the nursery and playing with them, and she was really the most efficient nursery-maid I ever had.

I came to understand the dog mentality, I think, very well; so much so that, soon after my marriage, my two small stepchildren whom I inherited, noting that I was not very loquacious in the home—a fact which may surprise some of your Lordships who have heard me speak in this Chambe r—engaged in the following conversation: "Daddy," said one, "does not speak very much, does he?" "Oh," said the other, "but you should hear how often he talks to his dog." So I do think that I have an understanding of the dog mentality.

My Lords, I would turn to the real defect of this Bill, which is its effect upon the responsibility and discretion of the local authorities in this matter. The noble Lord would make this Bill a national obligation upon all local authorities. At the moment they have permissive powers, and I believe that nearly all (perhaps all those who have control over urban areas) do have a bylaw to prevent, in so far as possible, this nuisance. But it seems to me that if we were to pass this Bill that discretion, even in urban areas, would be very severely limited, because at the moment urban authorities do allow certain public open spaces to be used for dogs running free. This is so in my area, where a part of Holland Park is allowed for the free running of dogs, though on the greater part of it dogs must be kept on a lead. Is it really intended that local authorities should not be allowed to exercise that sort of discretion? Because, surely, if people are going to have dogs in London at all, they must have some free range; and it seems to me that the Bill would stop this.

Then, local authorities differ in their requirements and in their environments. In the county district areas, where there are small market towns and villages, which are paved and would come under this Bill (because in these days, of course, they also have modern street lighting), there is no nuisance at all because there is so much countryside and pavements are not very much affected. Even if they are it hardly constitutes a nuisance, and it seems rather unreasonable that the local authorities should have to have legislation of this nature imposed upon them, willy-nilly.

My Lords, when it comes to the question of enforcement, which both noble Lords mentioned, the difficulty of enforcement, whether by the local authority, a public authority or the police, is evident. I can see the possibility of most unneighbourly rows going on. If people are going to be caught for this sort of thing, even if it is not on purpose—because it is not they who are doing it: it is their dog—and you get people who do not like dogs or their neighbours, there are going to be all sorts of tales going round and there will be complicated prosecutions. I do not think the Bill is very helpful from that point of view.

Then there is the-question of justice. I inquired from my local borough council, at Kensington, who have had a by-law of this nature on their books since 1939, and I am told that it has a very important proviso which I am quite sure should be in this Bill, if it is given a Second Reading. The by-law, with the proviso, is as follows: No person being in charge of a dog shall allow the dog to foul the footway of any street or public place by depositing its excrement thereon: Provided that a person shall not be liable to be convicted of an offence against this by-law if he satisfies the court that the fouling of the footway by the dog was not due to culpable neglect or default on his part. I would ask noble Lords to consider whether some such proviso is not necessary, and how difficult it is to prove whether or not there: has been culpable neglect.

If a dog is off the lead it might be held to be culpable neglect. But, even when the dog is on the lead, does the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, really maintain that you can prevent a dog which is following you along the pavement from lifting its leg quickly against a lamp-post or a tree? And in my street we have both, very conveniently planted, growing out of the pavement with a nice little circle of earth around the base. And of course canine intelligence tells the dog that it has been put there for its own particular purpose. When the noble Lord talks about its habit being incompatible with the dignity of civilised life, surely all he means is incompatible with the dignity of lamp-posts. One might consider that the dog believes that this lamp- post is put there conveniently for its own purpose; and it might even be expressing an aesthetic opinion upon the lamp-post very much in accord with the views, for example, of my noble friend Lord Bossom—because these lamp-posts are not very beautiful things.

How can you get the dog to walk in the road or the gutter? After all, dogs, being intelligent beings, do not like to walk in the road or gutter any more than human beings do, because they do not want to be run over by a bus, or even by the butcher's boy's bicycle. Therefore, I would say that, even when the dog is on the lead, it is virtually impossible, with normal care, to prevent a dog from committing a nuisance on the pavement. Moreover, if it is going to be a larger rather than a smaller nuisance, and the dog is on the lead, the most desperate tug-of-war takes place. You can do your best, but you cannot effectively control a dog's natural habits, and therefore I believe that this Bill will not be effective in what it sets out to do.

It is not a necessary Bill, because the local authorities already have these powers, and even if their discretion is interfered with by this Bill on a national level, I do not believe that either they or the police would be able to carry out its purpose any better than it is carried out to-day. I sympathise with the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, but I think Lord Silkin is probably right in suggesting that the answer is the cleaning of the streets more often, especially in those areas where this sort of nuisance occurs. I have to traverse the pavement to get to public transport every day by this main entrance into the park, and it is at times rather dirty and unpleasant. It seems to me that the local authorities might think of cleaning these particular stretches of pavement more often than they do, and I think that that would be the best way out of this problem. Of course this is a Private Member's Bill; there is no Whip of any sort on it. But I do express the view, I am given to understand, of my colleagues on this particular Bill; and I am naturally expressing my own personal and private view about it, too. I shall not vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, which I believe to be an unnecessary Bill and one that would not prove to be effective.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, with one thing which the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said I am in total agreement; that is that dogs in urban areas should not be allowed to run free outside their own homes off the lead. They are too often the cause of very bad accidents. Any motorist will swerve, naturally, almost instinctively, to avoid a dog running on to the street, and in swerving he may of course very easily go into a head-on collision with somebody coming the other way. I think that is very true. But in every other way I am afraid I am absolutely against the Bill. The chief reason is that, to my mind, it is totally unenforceable, as other noble Lords have said. I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would agree that the worst thing one can do is to create legislation which is unenforceable. This Bill is unenforceable for one reason. No legislation, however efficient it is, can contradict an even stronger law, and that is the law of nature. And it is the law of nature, unfortunately, that a dog feels from time to time that it has to relieve itself, and nothing on earth that we can do is going to alter that. A dog has been trained from the earliest time that it must not do so inside the house but that it is perfectly all right to do so outside it. Is it now going to have to learn another lesson, that there are two kinds of outside? I would be the first to say that dogs are extremely trainable creatures, but to teach a dog the difference between the macadam on the pavement and the macadam on the street, I think is really expecting too much of it.

What is more, of course, on the pavement there are certain upright articles. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned lamp-posts, and my noble friend Lord Hastings mentioned trees. The male dog of course makes instinctively for these. Upright articles are almost invariably on the pavement; they are not on the street, and as a one-time motorist I am very glad they are not. They are, and will remain, on the pavement. Therefore, I feel that it is perfectly impossible for any owner of a dog to train the dog that it must never relieve itself except in the gutter; and even that, as my noble friend Lord Hastings said, is dangerous with traffic as it is to-day. And, lastly, are the Government really satisfied that the penalties as they are proposed in the Bill are going to prove a sufficient deterrent to the dog to prevent it from relieving itself? I myself very much doubt it.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, a deal of good common sense has been talked this afternoon and I do not propose to go over it all again. I should merely like to point out one or two aspects of the case which so far do not seem to have received due attention. There are two questions which I should like to ask the noble Lord who moved this Bill. Perhaps he could answer them before I say any more. The first is about nuisances. Are our nuisances all of one kind or are there major and minor nuisances? The noble Lord cannot answer that? The other question relates to the fact that many dogs are trained, whether it is reasonable or not, to defalcate into the gutter. I should like to know whether that would be an offence or not. It is true that it is not exactly on the footway but it is just adjacent to the footway, and people are often compelled to step off the footway while they are walking along a crowded road.

Something that really worried me more than anything else was the provision that, in public open spaces which adjoin a road, a footpath shall also be considered as a footpath within the meaning of the Bill. I think that is a terrible thing. To begin with, it would exclude dogs from having their run in all the parks in London. One could not even take a dog for a run on Wimbledon Common because there is a footpath all along one side of it. To take an extreme case, one could not take a dog on to Salisbury Plain. So I think that is a bad provision in the Bill and whatever is done that should be dealt with.

In regard to the fines for these offences, I feel inclined to use the word "ferocious". Fancy being fined £20 because one morning your dog has slipped out and made a mess on the pavement! In any event, these fines will have a most alarming effect on dog owners, especially those who are not well educated or well informed. If this Bill were introduced and enforced, the effect of it would be to persuade a large number of people to get rid of their dogs. The dog would perhaps be out all night, and when it came in in the morning the owner would be afraid that it had committed some offence during the night, and he would take the little round disc of identity from the dog's collar and turn the dog out of doors. It seems to me a terrible thing to have to say that people would do that, but it is well known that they do such things when their pockets are in any way threatened.

Finally, there is a provision to the effect that the police or district authorities may destroy or dispose of unclaimed dogs. That would be an open door to the resumption of the capture of stray dogs for vivisection. For many years the laboratories have tried to get permission to be given stray clogs by the police for laboratory purposes. So far those pleas have been successfully rejected. The Bill says only that the police or the district authorities may destroy or dispose of unclaimed dogs. If this provision were to become law it would permit them to sell the dogs to civilian purchasers whose bona fides had not been checked; and we should merely be opening the doors of the laboratories to a large number of fresh victims.