HL Deb 02 February 1965 vol 262 cc1103-15

3.54 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, to come back to the somewhat quieter subject of dogs, there will be few of your Lordships who do not sympathise with, and approve of, the object of this Bill. Nobody will deny the necessity for some sort of action to remedy the nuisance, which grows rather than diminishes as years go by. My one uncertainty relates to the probable effectiveness of the noble Lord's proposals for meeting this problem. Can they be enforced? I am reminded of a remark by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—he is not here now—who said in a debate on dogs which we had a few years ago: What is the good of cluttering up our Statute Book with enactments that are not enforced or cannot be enforced? Does the noble Lord opposite feel that an overworked and undermanned police force will take note of, let alone take action against, an offence of this nature? The answer to the problem, as I see it, is something very different. I think the answer is drastically to reduce the number of dogs in London and other big towns and cities. The way to reduce that number is to put on a whacking great licence fee for all dogs so kept. The current 7s. 6d. dog licence, which, as your Lordships know, dates from somewhere about 1878, long before most of us were born, is in any case grossly inadequate, besides being notoriously evaded by all and sundry. But bring in a law requiring all residents who own and keep their dogs in London, or other big towns and cities, to pay on January 1 each year a sum of, say, £3—I very nearly said £4 or £5—for which they will be given a tag to be attached to the dog's collar showing that that £3 licence has been paid, and you may then see a considerable reduction in the urban dog population.

In any case, generally speaking, dogs have a pretty miserable existence in London and big cities and, as a dog lover, which most of your Lordships are, I should like to see them banished from towns altogether. So while I admire the public-spirited action of the noble Lord opposite, and congratulate him on the efforts he is making to clear up the streets, I am not enthusiastic about the particular proposals he makes. Nevertheless, I will not oppose the Second Reading.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should just like to support the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on his Amendment. I consider that this Bill is quite unnecessary and impracticable. Clause l (1) (a) is unnecessary because, as we have already heard, this matter is already covered by existing by-laws. For instance, there is the shepherd driving his sheep into market. He cannot help it if his dog fouls a pavement or, for that matter, if a sheep fouls a pavement, and, if you are going to have him up because his dog fouls the pavement, to be practicable you should also have him up if his sheep fouls the pavement. Under the by-laws, of course, the man is had up only if he is proved to have been really blameworthy, but under the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, he is blameworthy in any event, so far as I can see.

I should just like to point to paragraph (b) of Clause 1 (1), where the whole Bill falls down: it falls down on the word "adjoining". What is the legal definition of the word "adjoining"? How far have you got to be from an object before you cease to be adjoining? For instance, have you to be 100 feet, 100 yards or 100 miles'? We talk about England adjoining Ireland, but I am in England and if another human being is in Ireland I am not adjoining that human being. So it would appear that the word "adjoining" depends to a certain extent on the size of the objects said to be adjoining. Therefore, until we have a proper definition of the word "adjoining" in this Bill, where it occurs in the phrase a public open space adjoining any such footway"— in other words, any public place adjoining where the lamp-posts are not more than 200 yards apart—it might mean anything. It might mean a public open space miles away. To me, it is nonsense.

However, I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, who said that all dogs in our urban areas should be done away with. We have in urban areas over a million people who own dogs, and a great number of these people are widowers or spinsters. They are lonely people, and a dog is a great comfort to them. I really cannot agree with my noble friend there. You also have the question of guide dogs for the blind. It would be monstrous if, under this Bill, a blind person should be "had up" if his dog fouls the pavement. It would be quite impracticable.

I should like to make just one further point about Clause 2. I think the police or requisite authority ought to allow three weeks for the claiming of a dog; and they ought not to be allowed, if the dog is not claimed, or if it cannot go to a responsible person, to send the dog to be used for research purposes. It ought to be humanely destroyed. I say that—it may seem sentimental—because there are establishments in this country that breed dogs for the purpose of research; and if you take a stray dog that may have come—presumably has come—from a home where it has been a pet and send it for research, then in my opinion it will suffer more than a dog which has been brought up in the impersonal atmosphere of a big kennel. My Lords, I will end by saying that I shall vote against the Second Reading of this Bill if it goes to a vote, as I presume it will. Therefore, I heartily support the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his Amendment.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment? Perhaps I should declare an interest, because I am the master of a pack of foxhounds, and, were I to take twenty couple to a meet in a neighbouring town, and if the stars in their courses should fight against me, by a simple process of arithmetic I might find myself liable to a fine of £200. Many noble Lords have already gone into this matter in a good deal of detail, and I do not propose to refer to that part of the Bill, the central part, which refers to the lamp-post, although I should have thought that common usage over the centuries would perhaps have given our canine friends a certain right, and that they should be allowed to exercise it in this way.

But I think that both the noble Lord who has proposed the Second Reading of this Bill and the noble Lord who has moved the Amendment have one point very much in common. What we should like to see stopped is the deliberate fouling of the pavements. With a dog that is out on its own—and dogs will always have their walks on their own—I do not think it is reasonable to expect that it can be stopped: because it is careful enough to avoid being killed by traffic. But this sort of thing has happened, and will continue so long as we have dogs. But what I think annoys us all very much is to see someone, with a dog on a lead, hopefully looking into a shop window while his pet fouls the sidewalk. It is in this sort of case that action should be taken. Instead of "yo-yoing" it straight into the gutter, they just stand there looking into the shop window. This, I feel, is the centre of the problem. It is not a matter for a Bill in your Lordships' House, but is more properly dealt with in by-laws made by the local government authorities in the various districts concerned.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Marquess that the second time it happened it would not be £200 but might be £800?


That seems to be a good point for the anti-blood sports people.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might also remind the noble Marquess that, under the terms of this Bill, the fact that he was hunting his pack, presumably, in a rural area would by no means guarantee immunity: it would almost certainly be in an area which was governed by this Bill. Apart from the somewhat equivocal support from the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, I think that every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate so far has spoken against the Bill, and I do not propose to disturb that unanimity. Not only do I speak on my own behalf, as this is a Private Member's Bill, but I also think it right to give some indication of the Government's attitude.

I always enjoy listening to the speeches of my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch. There is a sonorous quality in his delivery which has something of a musical appeal, and his arguments also appeal to the intellect. But on this occasion, sadly, while the music was as attractive as ever, the words, it seemed to me, were almost an affront, not only to dog owners and to dogs, but to the intelligence. I strongly support the arguments which were advanced by my noble friend Lord Silkin in moving his Amendment, and, indeed, most of what has been said by other noble Lords during the debate; because where the Bill's proposals are not virtually impossible of enforcement, they are either quite unnecessary or so ill-conceived as to cause positive hardship.

No-one disputes—and this point was made many times during the debate—that the fouling of footways by dogs is a nuisance, and that any reasonable measure to reduce that nuisance is worthy of support. As my noble friend Lord Silkin made quite clear, county councils and borough councils already have powers under Section 249 of the Local Government Act, 1933, to make by-laws for the suppression of nuisances. And, indeed (and this has not been made clear during the debate), a great many local authorities have made bylaws which make it an offence to permit a dog to foul the footway of any street or public place.

This is the most convenient and, in fact, almost the only appropriate way of dealing with nuisances of this kind, because local authorities, with knowledge of their own areas, are in a better position than anyone else to deal with this sort of nuisance in the areas for which they have responsibility. My Department has a model by-law, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred, which provides that no person in charge of a dog shall allow that dog to foul the footway of any street or public place; and the by-law includes other provisions, including that of a fine not exceeding £5.

My Lords, as one would expect, by-laws on this subject are difficult to enforce, because the offences usually occur when there are no witnesses and it is not possible to trace the offenders. The duty of enforcement rests mainly with the local authority, and our experience shows that these by-laws are effective only in those areas where the local authorities have taken active steps to enforce them and to continue to give publicity to them. Whatever we did about this Bill, that would still be true; and without the active cooperation of the local authorities nothing we did would have any effect. There will be no advantage whatever in the Bill's proposal to make a kind of national rule, because local authorities will be energetic in enforcing such a rule only if there is a proved local need. I would point out that there is a major difference between existing arrangements regarding the fouling of footways of streets or public places and the proposal in Clause 1 of my noble friend's Bill. The Bill not only defines the footway as any highway where there is a system of street lighting with lamps not more than 200 yards apart but it enlarges the area of possible offence to include any open space adjoining such footways.

I was very pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch say that at one time when he was far away from any habitation his constant companion was a dog. When I read the Bill I thought that that might not be the case. I do not know how far away from human habitation he was, or where the place was; but I can think of many places in this country—the New Forest, for example—far away from human habitation, in which it would become an offence under his Bill for him to exercise his dog. There are many urban areas where the street lamps are not more than 30 yards apart —which from the viewpoint of a dog is ideal—but the 200-yards provision would include in the area many lighted highways far beyond the built-up areas. And, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, mentioned, the term "public open spaces" would also include all parks, commons and other open spaces, as well as the grass verges and small greens set in the midst of streets, all of which are often the only places in urban areas where dogs may be exercised without nuisance to pedestrians and without causing danger to traffic.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, raised the point of the meaning of the term "adjoining". I live at the top of Highgate Hill, with a choice of open spaces within 200 or 300 yards. I would assure him that they are so "adjoining" the streets, with street lamps every 30 yards, that one has only to take a single step from the highway to be in the public park or open space. And I can assure your Lordships that, despite the difficulties which some noble Lords appear to experience, when I take my dog for a walk he exercises what I can only call a noble restraint in passing the area of lamp-posts at 25-yard intervals and then does whatever is necessary in the adjoining place, out of sight and without harm to anyone, as soon as we get to the nearest public open space. Under my noble friend's Bill, this would be an offence. A few days ago I travelled by night from Highgate, where I live, into Surrey. I took particular notice of how far I had to travel before the street lights ended. It was 22 miles. If this Bill were accepted, dog owners in London would have to hire helicopters if they would legally exercise their dogs.

I mentioned that the power of enforcing by-laws is exercised mainly by the local authorities; although, of course, the police can take action if they wish. But the Bill now before us proposes general legislation, which means that the duty of enforcement would be transferred to the police. This, apparently, is the intention of my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch. But, as my noble friend Lord Silkin has made clear, this would certainly not be welcomed by the police; and it would be contrary to the views expressed by the Royal Commission, and by all of us, against unnecessary increase in the duties of the police. It would be par- ticularly undesirable at present because of the shortage of manpower, and it cannot reasonably be expected that the police should prosecute for provisions of this kind designed to preserve public amenities.

I do not subscribe to the view that this matter is beneath the notice of your Lordships' House. I do not agree that the subject is unworthy of your attention, but I do say that it is intolerable to foist on to the police duties of this kind, when we are all too painfully aware that their numbers are too few to cope with the ever-mounting duties they have to perform in the way we and they would like. It is notable that local authorities are required to enforce the Litter Act, and it is right that responsibility for the enforcement of analogous legislation should also be left with them.

In Clause 2 of his Bill my noble friend deals with dogs that may be found wandering. It covers the same ground as Section 3 of the Dogs Act, 1906, but very much less adequately. I do not want to read out the whole of it, but Section 3 of the 1906 Act contains ten subsections and it sets out in most satisfactory detail what has to be done with regard to stray dogs. This has worked very well for nearly sixty years and I am at a loss to know why Clause 2 should have been put in the Bill at all, particularly as it lacks many of the safeguards of the 1906 Act and contains some differences of substance affecting the police.

For example, Clause 2 of my noble friend's Bill is not limited, as it should be, to dogs found in highways or places of public resort. It also requires dogs to be kept for fourteen days before destruction or disposal, compared with seven days in the 1906 Act. This would unnecessarily increase the trouble and expense to which the police are put in dealing with stray dogs. That may not be my noble friend's intention, because he does not provide in his Bill that the dogs should be properly fed and maintained during the fourteen days.

Then, under the 1906 Act the owner cannot have his dog back until he has paid the police expenses. That is a very simple procedure. But under my noble friend's proposals the owner could claim his dog as of right, without having first to pay the police expenses. That would leave the police with the onus of recovering the expenses as a civil debt. In fact, my Lords, Clause 2 of the Bill adds nothing useful to the provisions of the 1906 Act.


My Lords, on this point is it not also true that this Bill does not even say that if the owner's name and address is on the dog collar the police must inform him before destroying the dog if it is not claimed within the fourteen days?


My Lords, that is another omission. Those of your Lordships who are interested should read Section 3 of the 1906 Act which contains ten very comprehensive and sensible provisions, not only to ensure that the owners should be able to claim their dogs but also for the protection of the dog while in custody. Very little has been said in this debate about the proper protection and care of the dog. There seems to have been a general assumption that the dog is to be regarded as an offender; and that is something I completely reject.

There are many other objections to this extraordinary Bill, including, as my noble friend Lord Silkin mentioned, the hardship likely to be suffered by elderly, blind or disabled people, who depend very much on their dogs, as well as by the great majority of the 2 million dog owners in this country to whom their dogs are personal friends which they treasure very highly. If the Bill were passed, it would inflict hardship on the whole community of law-abiding dog owners and well-behaved dogs. I appreciate my noble friend's motives, but I hope he will accept that his proposals for furthering those very laudable motives would create serious difficulties. I think it has been made clear during the debate that to a large extent his Bill duplicates existing powers, which work reasonably well. Where he seeks to add to those powers he has failed to show that a need exists. But the greatest objection to the Bill is that if it were enacted we should be putting on the Statute Book legislation which was unnecessary, unreasonable and virtually unenforceable. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will decide to withdraw the Bill. But if he is not willing to do that, I would ask your Lordships to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Silkin.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, experience of more than fifty years of public life has taught me that arguments in favour of the status quo can always be produced with great facility. It does not really matter whether they are consistent or otherwise. My noble friend Lord Stonham and other noble Lords who have spoken have said that these proposals are not enforceable. At the same time, my noble friend speaks for the Home Office, which is the body which sanctions and approves by-laws made by local authorities which, in substance, are very much the same as the provisions of Clause 1 of this Bill. If the Home Office is engaged, time after time, in approving by-laws which are useless and unenforceable, I feel very much surprised.

The truth of the matter is that they are not unenforceable. It is merely that people do not take the trouble, where by-laws exist, to enforce them. I am suggesting, in all humility, to your Lordships that this is a very undesirable state of affairs. If the local authorities who make the by-laws do not choose to enforce them, then it would be better if we had some public legislation which could be enforced by the police. I am told that the police are very busy and over-strained. In very many cases, that may be true. But are we going to have a holiday from all legislation which requires enforcement procedure by the police? Have we had such a holiday in recent years, and are we likely to have it in the future? I shall be very surprised, indeed, if that happens. It is a convenient argument to use in detail against some particular piece of legislation, but it is not an overriding reason.

I am sorry that local authorities make these by-laws and do not enforce them. I think it is extremely reprehensible. But there is a considerable amount of public uneasiness in this matter. As I have told your Lordships, I have received many complaints from all over this country. This is not a laughing matter; it is quite a serious matter. Nor is it true that this is a proposal which is going to inflict hardship or inconvenience upon old people and blind people. Guide dogs for the blind, I may point out to your Lordships, are so carefully trained that without any guidance or control by their owners they take to the gutter when they want to relieve themselves. It is part of their training. They do not have to be instructed by their owners; they are already instructed. And all of us who have dogs can easily guide them to do the same thing. There is not any real difficulty about it.

The only difficulty is to get provisions which will safeguard the streets passed and put into operation. I do not want to detain your Lordships very long. It may be that there are details in this Bill which are capable of improvement. I should be the last person to suggest that there were not, and few noble Lords who have introduced a Private Member's Bill have not been faced with the difficulty that the ingenuity of whatever Government Department is concerned has found something which it considers to be capable of improvement. That I am always willing to listen to, and I hope that I shall pay heed to any constructive criticism. But for anybody to say that these provisions cannot be enforced is to say that it is perfectly useless to have any by-laws at all and that they ought to be repealed. That is the logical consequence of it. I do not accept this.

As to the question of manpower, some noble Lords have said that this proposal is going to be solved by having the streets swept more frequently. I wonder how much more frequently. Where I live, the streets are swept every day. Are they going to be swept two or three times a day, and is that a means of conserving manpower? Surely this is an argument which cannot hold water. It is only a minority of owners—quite a handful—who are responsible for this trouble, and who let their dogs out every day or deliberately take them along the street and do not attempt to guide them to any place where offence would not be caused. To say that it will cause the employment of a great deal of manpower in order to cope with it is not at all correct. Anybody who has studied it knows that this is not so. Neither is it correct to say that dogs cannot be trained and controlled by their owners. In my opening speech, I referred to the National Dog Owners' Association, which has devoted itself for years past to explaining to the owners of dogs how they can train their dogs so that they will be obedient and conform to what is required. There is no real difficulty about this at all. I am sorry that points of that kind should be raised. Points of a constructive character suggesting amendment to the Bill I should always be delighted to accede to, but to say that, in principle, this is a thing with which we cannot cope, I cannot accept for a single moment.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I had hoped that after the numerous and devastating speeches that have been made on both sides of the House, but principally on the other side, against this Bill, my noble friend would see that discretion is the better part of valour and would withdraw the Bill. Apparently, he is not willing to do so. I have the last word, but I do not think I need to say much.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that by-laws have been ineffective or have not been acted on. He makes some play with the fact that the Home Office approves these by-laws. I, myself, took the view that these by-laws were unenforceable. One would expect them to be unenforceable, and, speaking for myself, I am sorry that the Home Office have approved these by-laws which are not enforceable. But that is no reason why we should go further, bring in the police and do something which is even more unenforceable.

Most of the difficulty of which my noble friend complains takes place in the course of exercising dogs, and dogs are exercised mainly early in the morning or late at night, or on Sunday. If my noble friend goes to any of the parks—Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park—on a Sunday morning, he will see hundreds and hundreds of dogs being exercised, giving joy not only to the dogs, but to their owners. It is true that on those occasions if we had an army of policemen they might exercise some control. But how one can expect the police to be on duty early in the morning and late at night to supervise the activities of dogs is quite beyond me; and moreover those are just the times when they are needed for other purposes. So I base my case largely on the fact that this Bill will be unenforceable, as has been demonstrated by the fact that the by-laws are unenforceable.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, referred to the desirability of reducing the number of dogs.


In London.


In London or anywhere else. Dogs are a great comfort and pleasure to most people who own them, and it would be a great pity if we decided to reduce their number. But, in any case, to reduce the number by imposing a higher tax seems to me to be quite the wrong way to do it, because what you are then doing is penalising people who by and large are not able to pay this extra tax. It is mostly the poor people who enjoy the company of dogs and who need their companionship. To say that those people must be deprived of their dogs or made to pay a heavier tax, so causing them great sacrifice and hardship, is, I think, quite wrong. Indeed, I would go the other way. There are some cases where I would relieve people altogether of taxation in this respect. The old-age pensioner, who in many cases relies so much on his dog, and others of that kind, to whom even a 7s. 6d. tax is something of a hardship, I would relieve altogether of the obligation to pay this tax. Be that as it may, I think that the case has been fully made out against this Bill, and I hope the House will have the good sense to vote against it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.