HL Deb 07 November 1968 vol 297 cc370-408

Debate resumed.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should now like to pursue what the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has been saying about dogs. First of all, I am pleased to see that he has put down this Motion on the Order Paper. I do not want to say a great deal in support of it and shall confine most of what I am going to say to the question of London, which is the only part of the country that I really know anything about. It seems to me that there are at present too many dogs in London. I personally have never felt it to he necessary that one should keep a dog in London, partly because of the difficulty of giving the dog suitable exercise and partly because of what to do with the dog when the owner goes away. If the owner has not a large domestic staff to take care of the dog the result is the tragedy to which the noble Lord referred, and dogs get taken round to the vet. and are killed.

One would like to see far more work done upon treating and spaying bitches. Although this is an unpleasant operation it is completely safe, and the animal is not detained long for treatment. One wonders whether something more could not be done by various propaganda measures by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and similar bodies to encourage this type of operation. I am pleased that the noble Lord said that it might be possible for old-age pensioners living by themselves and trying to keep a dog to do so at the original licence fee, because if that fee went up to £2 or more a severe burden would be placed upon them.

I should now like to come back to my own personal experience of dogs. I live in a quiet cul-de-sac in London. Because it is quiet it is used as a promenade for dogs. Sometimes they are on their leads, sometimes not. They generally come with their owners. What surprises me is that when they take their walks they are allowed to cover the pavement with excrement. Today, for example, on one side of the road up which I walk, in a distance of 150 yards there were four little piles of excrement. One pile had been there some time, but the others were quite fresh. Proceeding from the top of my road to the Underground station, another couple of a hundred yards or maybe a little more, there were two further piles of excrement on the pavement. I know that one can say that these will be cleared away by the local authority in their street cleaning, but street cleaning today is not as good as it was. Certainly during the summer months I saw several piles of dried up excrement which were becoming dusty from lying on the pavement. I never counted the number of days they were there, but it was quite a number of days.

Unfortunately, although one can talk to the owners about this breach of the law, as indeed it is, they just ignore one and do not worry about it at all. It is difficult to find a policeman on patrol to whom to report the matter. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is going to reply can possibly say what number of successful prosecutions there have been, say in the Metropolitan area, in regard to dogs fouling the pavement. Dog owners could be encouraged to train their dogs to use the gutters of the streets. This would at least be preferable to their using the pavements. It is something which can be done comparatively easily and would certainly save the trouble that one may get into from treading in a pile of excrement in the streets. Often one does not know that one has trodden in it and it is brought into the house. As many noble Lords know, if anything like this gets trodden into a carpet, it is quite a job to get it clean and tidied up. These are personal matters, but this is the way I see this problem affecting the ordinary householder in London.

I should like to follow up what the noble Lord has said in regard to enlisting the assistance of the police or, as they are rather busy at the present time, some other kind of official—a dog warden or something like that. I suppose such a body of persons would need to be paid for their work. There is a need for such people to go round to make sure that dogs are not sold, even when puppies, without being licensed, and the law that a dog should wear a collar with the owner's name on it should be much more strictly enforced. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will agree with me that it is quite absurd to have such a law if it cannot be enforced; it is better to repeal it, otherwise it becomes a pure mockery. Therefore I think there is something in the noble Lord's idea of dog wardens. But if we had them we should need to enforce the law strictly, so that their pay would come from the extra money obtained from the licences. I have great pleasure in supporting the noble Lord in his plea for increasing dog licence fees.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, first of all, to pay a tribute to the noble Lord who has introduced this Motion. It is one which is obviously of interest to this House. In fact, there are as many speakers taking part in this debate as took part in the economic debate yesterday, although it is obviously not so dramatic a subject.

The noble Lord introduced this subject with objectiveness, and he has been persistent for many years in bringing this matter before this House. I wish he had been less objective and had been a little more emotional about this matter, because, in my view, the real question is not the fiscal one—the raising of the revenue licence. I do not suppose that was his main purpose. He is looking on the raising of the licence fee as one method of dealing with what is admittedly a great evil in this country. Nor is it really any part of our business. We are not concerned with, and should not be concerned with, raising taxation, although there is no objection to our making suggestions. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord not to press his Motion to a Division at the end of the debate, because it calls upon the Government, in terms, to introduce an increase in taxation which, of course, is not our affair.

However, there is an evil. The whole question of abandoned and stray dogs is something we ought to give far more attention to than we have done in the past. The noble Lord has spoken of 4¾ million dogs in this country. These are the figures which have been supplied to him by the R.S.P.C.A., and I have no doubt that they have taken some pains to ensure that those figures are reasonably accurate. If they are, it means that on an average about one family in three possesses one dog. That is not surprising, because there is in this country a special emotion about dogs and, I think, about horses; but I would say that dogs come first. We are a nation of dog lovers, and it would be a mistake to exaggerate the extent of the evil, although I do not for a moment feel that the actual evil itself is being exaggerated. After all. 300,000 stray dogs out of 4¾ million is not a large figure, and I think we ought to recognise that the vast majority of dogs in this country are well treated, are loved, are rendering a great service and comfort and affection to their owners, and that a very happy relationship exists between dogs and their owners.

We all know of cases where the dog in the home is the real master. It determines the kind of holidays people take; it determines their leisure. Some people cannot go out because they will not leave their dog alone at home; they cannot go on holiday because they have no facilities for looking after the dog. The dog is really a very important factor in the social life of this country, and I think it is only right to point out that that is the general position throughout the country.

However, we must do something, if we can, about these abandoned dogs. I wish some of your Lordships could pay a visit to the Battersea Dogs' Home as I did some time ago. It was a most distressing experience. Somehow instinctively the dogs there, and in other homes, realise what their fate is going to be, and the appealing look they give when one goes round, almost begging in words to be adopted and given a home, is something which strikes at one's heart almost unbearably. A number of dogs are, of course, given homes from Battersea and other places. I understand that about a third of the dogs in these homes are actually adopted and found a place where they can live in happiness and comfort.

I think that the real point of the noble Lord's Motion is not so much to raise taxation as to ventilate what can be done about these stray and abandoned dogs. In the end it may be that there are too many dogs in this country. If something can be done to reduce the dog population so that only enough dogs are bred for those who need and want a dog in the home, that would be the best solution of all, but frankly I am not sure what the answer is. I think it would help very much if every owner of a dog, whether he is a breeder or the proprietor of a pet shop, had to produce a licence and pass it on to the purchaser of a dog, whatever the age of the dog may be. That certainly would be an advantage. Owners would have a vested interest in a dog and not feel that they have to get rid of it the moment it becomes a little inconvenient. It may well be that by increasing the amount of the dog licence they will have a greater vested interest in that dog, and feel more disposed to keep it and look after it. However, I am not sure that that is the complete answer. What the answer is I do not know, and I am hoping that my noble friend Lord Kennet may be able to make some suggestions.

Possibly the delay to which the noble Lord has referred, of the various Governments in dealing with this matter, has been quite honestly the difficulty in finding the answer. I think any Government would be reluctant simply to increase the licence fee. I think the dog is so much a part of our domestic life that we have to think of those to whom even an increase of a pound in the licence, or 12s. 6d., would mean something. I am looking forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord Kennet what the Government have to suggest for dealing with what is an admitted evil, although perhaps not as great a one as the figure of 300,000 abandoned dogs a year would indicate when compared with the total number.

Apart from that, I should like to associate myself with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has said, and I am most grateful to him for having raised this subject. I do not think I can usefully add further to the debate, but I hope that the noble Lord will have succeeded in encouraging this House to be very sympathetic to the cause that he has at heart and that something will emerge as a result of this debate.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House is more than grateful to my noble friend Lord Ailwyn for introducing this Motion and for ventilating the problems which beset dogs. I should like to associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when he complimented my noble friend Lord Ailwyn on his speech, a speech which I found intensely interesting and into which obviously he had put a great deal of research. Nobody who listened to his speech could fail to be moved by his account of the number of stray dogs and the fact that so many are having to be put down. I believe it is a fact that there are 100,000 dogs a year which are unclaimed strays and that the R.S.P.C.A. themselves have to slaughter 200,000. This is a terrible figure. It is a sad reflection that those who join the R.S.P.C.A. in order to spend their lives protecting animals in fact find themselves spending their lives slaughtering them. We should do all we can to see that this kind of wholesale destruction does not take place.

My noble friend's answer was to increase the licence fee from 7s. 6d. (a fee which, as he pointed out, has been in operation since 1878) to £2, and I thought he put forward a very forceful case. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, did not quite know what the answer was. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will not take the advice of my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, because if in fact people are evading paying a licence fee of 7s. 6d., how many more are going to evade it if it goes up to £2? The answer is that there will be very many more unlicensed dogs and many more stray dogs as well.


My Lords, surely the noble Lord must not assume that, even if the licence fee were £1, the police would not do their duty.


My Lords, the police have a very great deal to do. My noble friend suggested that there should be dog wardens and that the money which goes into the kitty should be used to pay for them. I have always thought the coming of traffic wardens to be a fairly unhappy innovation, though in the circumstances an essential one. But if we bring in dog wardens, then I suggest we are getting almost to a pitch of absurdity. I, for one, should not like to see a whole lot of people being paid as it were to sit on their bottoms, chasing up more and more people to see whether they have dog licences and also removing the excrement that gets placed outside Lord Amulree's front door. We must get some sense of proportion in this matter. I do not believe that an increase in the licence fee of up to £2 would achieve the result which we all wish to see, and that is fewer stray dogs. I do not believe that one can encourage people to be dog lovers simply by making them pay a fee or take out a licence. What one will do is to increase the amount of work, the extent of evasion and the number of busybodies. Therefore, I hope that this will not be done.

My noble friend's Motion refers to the wholesale evasion of tax in this matter, with the implication that this is an argument for putting up the licence fee. I believe that if one puts up the licence fee one will bring about even greater evasion of tax. My noble friend's Motion then refers to the loss of revenue to local authorities. This may be great, and I think my noble friend said that it was some £8 million a year, which is a substantial figure; but if the licence fee for dogs is solely for the purpose of raising revenue, I wonder why the Government have stopped at dogs. There would appear to be a pretty lush harvest if they were to start on cats, canaries or goldfish, to say nothing of horses. I have often wondered why dogs have been taxed and licensed in this way if they are reputed to be man's best friend.

When I saw this Motion on the Order Paper I took occasion to study the Dog Licences Act 1959 which imposed the charge of 7s. 6d.—a fairly modest charge, but it took 17 sections of an Act to put it into law. Like all things with which civil servants are connected, they start off by making a law and then have a hundred and one exemptions to it. The first exemption is that one does not have to pay 7s. 6d. if one has a dog under six months. Then, if one is a master of foxhounds, provided one has licensed all the dogs in the pack one need not license any under 12 months if they are not actually used in the pack. Then the Act turns to sheep dogs which are used in the course of a sheep-farmer's business. They apparently do not have to have a licence. Provided one has only one sheep dog one may claim exemption, but in order to claim exemption one must go to the magistrates' court. If the farmer has 400 sheep, he can have two dogs without a licence, but if he has three dogs then two can be without a licence and one with a licence. If he has 1,000 sheep, he can have three dogs without a licence. It seems absurd that if the farmer has 1,000 sheep he cannot pay a fee of 22s.—if a fee is to be paid at all —for his dogs. The complexity of the licensing system in relation to a figure of 7s. 6d. is too absurd, and I suggest that it would be even more absurd if the fee were to go up to £2.

My noble friend gave the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, some advice on this point, and I also should like to give him some advice. My advice is that he should go back to his right honourable friend and suggest that the Dog Licences Act should be repealed. This would have the unique advantage of being popular; it would waste very little money and save a great deal of time and trouble and would simplify the law - which is something of which I am sure the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, would approve. It would give the Government a chance to say that it had abolished a tax, albeit a tax of only 7s. 6d., a tax paid apparently only by those who are public-spirited enough not to evade it. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will not take up my noble friend's suggestion about increasing the licence fee.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, modesty is a beautiful quality. The two preceding speakers have told the House that they do not know the answer to this problem. I admire that quality in their speeches. I shall not emulate it. I do know the answer to this problem. I have already told the House in previous debates the answer to this problem. The answer is that there should be an efficient system of dog licensing. When this subject was last debated I suggested that Her Majesty's Government should investigate the system of dog licensing which is in force in Canada and in the United States. Some years later I put down a Question to find out whether any consideration at all had been given to my suggestion. I received a contemptuous answer, which showed me quite clearly that no attempt had been made to understand what my suggestion was. I know that all Governments tend to be rather impervious to new ideas, and that all Governments are very patriotic and simply hate to be told that other countries do things rather better. I realise, therefore, that I must put my suggestion again and must go very slowly and very gently with Her Majesty's Government, in the hope that a tiny little bit will penetrate.

We have an admirable system for licensing motor cars. We put licences on the windscreens of cars and we arrange that those licences shall be of different colours, with the result that any policeman seeing the windscreen of a car can tell at a glance whether or not that car is licensed, I think it will be conceded that it would be a very considerable advantage if we could adopt a similar system for licensing dogs. In the United States of America and in Canada a similar system is adopted with great success. In those countries a dog licence is not a piece of printed paper; it is a small metallic tag capable of being attached to the collar of a dog, for the law that all dogs must wear collars is, so far as I have seen, efficiently observed across the Atlantic. When this system of dog licensing was first brought to my notice I took a walk down the main street of Windsor, Ontario, and I was able to see perfectly plainly that all the dogs I passed were licensed.

At the beginning of the year the American or Canadian dog-owner takes from the collar of his animal a little metallic tag of a peculiar shape. It may one year be a square, another year a round, another year a triangle or an oblong. The year I observed it in Canada the disc was shaped like a flat bell. He takes this object from the collar and carries it to the local taxation office, and he there hands it in. He also hands in the cost of a new licence, and the department then issues him with another little metallic tag of a form which is different from the previous year's tag. He takes that home, he attaches it to the collar of the dear, faithful dog, and then everybody who sees that dog in the streets can tell at a glance that its owner is a good, punctual citizen who, this year, has taken the trouble to license his dog. If a citizen is not punctual, if a citizen is slack and remiss and does not license his dog, then that fact will be obvious to everybody who sees the dog, and action can be taken. How simple that is!

I am not going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to express any opinion on this suggestion, but I am going to make a very humble suggestion. It is that he asks his friends in the Foreign Office whether they will politely request a member of the staff of the British High Commission in Ottawa, or a member of the staff of the British Embassy in Washington, kindly to report on this system and tell Her Majesty's Government whether it works efficiently and whether there are many evasions of the United States tax laws; and, further, whether he will say that, having got those reports and gone into the matter with due thoroughness, a little consideration will then be given to my suggestion.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has once more done a great service to your Lordships' House and the country in raising this subject, and the general interest in it is shown by the large number of your Lordships taking part in the debate. In view of that number, it is my intention to confine my remarks to a very few minutes, to allude briefly to what has been said by other speakers. So far as the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, is concerned, I am afraid that his speech had nothing whatever to do with the matter we are discussing. It concerned the question of the nuisance he found on his own pavement. That is a matter which has nothing to do with licensing, because anyone who lives in a quiet cul-de-sac in the West End is not likely to be bothered about paying a few shillings more for a licence. His concern is a matter to be taken up with the local borough council.

I could not quite agree with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that this Motion should not be forced to a Division because it deals with imposing a charge. My Lords, it does not impose a charge. This is not a portion of a Bill; it is merely a Motion, and at any time, surely, it is perfectly possible for your Lordships to make suggestions to the Government that a certain fiscal measure should be introduced. That does not mean imposing a tax, and is therefore quite all right. In other ways, I was in entire agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. As regards the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, all I can say is that it was exceedingly unhelpful. I cannot agree that the imposition of a higher tax would lead to greater evasion. Let me say at once that I am looking at this matter merely from the point of view of the interests of the dog: not in the interests of Her Majesty's Government or local authorities in collecting money.

One of the chief troubles is that there are too many dogs in the country, owing to the fact that too many dogs are permitted to survive at birth. There are a number of species, including particularly Labradors and Alsatians, which commonly have from seven or eight to twelve or even more puppies in one litter. It is not always possible for the owners to keep them all alive, but they usually try to keep seven or eight of the larger number and perhaps six of the smaller. Then, if they are professional breeders, or even if they are not, they find themselves with a large number of puppies on hand which they do not themselves want, and which they cannot get enough friends to adopt. The result is one of the many advertisements that one sees in various publications advertising dear little puppies for sale, and people who want to give a present to their child or someone else think it is a fine opportunity to acquire a puppy. Then follow all the lamentable consequences which were told to your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn.

If, as the noble Lord suggests, the tax is raised from 7s. 6d. to £2, people are going to think twice before acquiring a puppy. Therefore there will be less of a market for these unwanted puppies, which means that more of the poor little things will be put into a bucket at birth, which is far and away the best thing. If a person has to pay the tax when he acquires a puppy, whether it be by purchase or by gift, then he is going to take that puppy only if he means to give it a permanent home. It is not likely that anyone is going to pay £2 and then—alas! as is so often the case when the puppy is something over six months old, take it out, put it down by the roadside, give it a pat and then drive it off to be left to its own fate.

I urge Her Majesty's Government not only to consider the admirable suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, but also the very valuable suggestion put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, because in them I feel may well lie the solution to this admittedly very difficult problem. There is no reason why a dog should not, in normal circumstances, wear a collar with a distinctive tag showing that the tax has been paid for that year. If a dog is found outside the owner's premises without such a tag, then a policeman or other accredited person finding the dog could take the owner to court. Probably the owner will be let off with a caution if he has merely omitted to put on the collar for the first time, or be subject to a penalty of a few shillings. But if it is found that the dog has not been licensed for that year, then the same thing should happen as when the police stop someone who has no excise licence for his car. The owner of the dog should be heavily fined just as is the owner of the car. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, has made a suggestion which mutatis mutandis might he applied in this country. I urge Her Majesty's Government to make a proper investigation into that suggestion.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps the House will allow me to intervene, literally for one minute, at this stage. I regret that other duties prevent me from staying until the end of the debate. I apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers, but I did not realise that there was to be a debate on this subject. I intervene for two reasons: first, because I think it desirable that a speaker from these Benches should say something on this subject; and, secondly, because I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn. I am surprised that so little is said in churches, and that so little is written by Christians, about our duties towards animals. In the last 12 months I have been trying to do something to make good my omission in past years in this respect. I had no idea of the situation disclosed by the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn. I hope that the figures he has put before the House will rouse many people, as they have certainly roused me, to a new awareness of our responsibilities towards dogs in this country.


My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I should perhaps say that the figures of the number of dogs destroyed every week given by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, seem to be a good deal higher than the best estimate the Government have been able to get. The best estimate that the Government have been able to get is by no means precise—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, is not claiming that his figures are precise but I think the figures might not be much more than about half those given by the noble Lord. But it is still a lot.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I speak simply as a dog lover. I suppose that if all noble Lords who loved dogs were to speak we should have a record batting list to-day. I am very sorry that no noble Lady is to sneak to us on this subject, because it is a matter which concerns women, especially old women, very much. I think that that is a sad omission. We in Britain stand known, essentially if simply, for two things: for having the best police in the world and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, has said, for loving animals more than they do in any other country. Both of these things are true. But perhaps to say that is not to say very much. Indeed, so far as animals are concerned, particularly cats and dogs, our record is surely nothing to be proud of. The facts given by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, and by other noble Lords, are revealing enough. They have further convinced me, if conviction were necessary, that the need for increasing the cost of dog licences is real and urgent, if only to prevent people from owning dogs as if they were toys and playthings and, as it were, social assets like a baby jaguar instead of as sentient affectionate creatures.

The noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, have rightly concentrated on the needless destruction by dedicated professional folk of young dogs whose owners cannot be bothered with them, and who, when they go on holiday, either let them loose or have them put down on some trumped-up excuse. But this also applies to the owners of old dogs who have lost their charm. Often people say to me, "We have had to have old Rover sent to the vet"—the most delightful of euphemisms—"because he was old and smelly." I say to them, "You mean you had him killed. Would you like it if your friends have you killed, too, when you get old and smelly?"

I believe that when you adopt an animal you adopt it for life. I believe it to be a responsibility, if you like a minor responsibility, but a moral responsibility. Of course, there are many occasions when, in the animal's own interests, euthanasia must be carried out. And it is likely, although I think it is not proven, that man is the only animal who knows that he is going to die. But there is far too much casualness, far too much cruelty, and, I fear, as has been said, far too many unwanted dogs. Therefore, I support the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, from the mind and from the heart. To own a dog is to me a privilege, a privilege that should be paid for both with money and with affection.

Here, my Lords, a passing but a serious thought. If it has proved possible to make a pill which will prevent human conception, should it not be possible to produce a pill which would be equally effective with dogs? I do not think that even the most fervent religionist could object to that. For, let us face it, as has been said, there are far too many dogs and cats born in this country and, as a result, far too many puppies and far too many kittens are thrown into the river in sacks loaded with stones. Is it too much to expect chemists and veterinarians to produce a pill or a powder for dogs and cats without having to spay them? And spaying I am told authoritatively, particularly in the matter of the female, is a serious operation. I hope your Lordships will not regard this suggestion as frivolous. It seems to me to be both sensible and within the realms of modern science.

Last, there is the question of the old-age pensioners, which has been partially touched upon. It has always seemed to me to be one of the crueller dispensations of Providence, that domestic animals are given a far shorter span of life than we human beings. I try not to be a sentimentalist, but 1 often wonder whether we quite realise what it means for a very old and lonely person to lose her pet. The pensioners have little enough money to spend—especially many of the over-80s who have no pension at all. It would be a cruel burden, I think, to add a new and increased charge to their over-strained commitments. If it were proposed to increase the cost of dog licences so as to include old-age pensioners, then I would vote against it—that is, if I still have a vote. Otherwise, my Lords, I think that this is a serious and honourable Motion, and despite the advice from many noble Lords to the contrary, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, will press it to a Division and that the Government and the House will give it their blessing.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to support the Motion. I must first apologise to your Lordships that I have to leave before the debate concludes. That is something that I have not, I think, been guilty of before, but on this occasion I cannot stay very long. The noble Lord who moved the Motion made a most informative and persuasive case which has been supported by constructive suggestions from the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I wish to make a further suggestion which I hope is constructive.

Dog licensing is a matter for local authorities. The police are very busy with matters which may be considered a great deal more important, and one cannot blame them for not assisting in enforcing the law relating to dogs. But there is no reason why a local authority should not appoint an officer—I should not like to call him a "dog warden", because that would be a misleading description—who would be concerned with the enforcement of the law relating to dogs; the collection of dog licences; dealing with stray dogs found wandering in the streets and, where there is a by-law to that effect, prosecuting people who allow their dogs to foul the pavement. In many cases such by-laws are not observed and no one takes the trouble to prosecute people who do not observe them. A few prosecutions would make a great deal of difference to the disposition to obey the law.

Incidentally, there has been some correspondence in the Press recently about the condition of our streets and the detriment to tourism that it constitutes. If local authorities appointed officers of this kind they might very well, among their other duties, see to the enforcement of the law with regard to leaving litter in the streets. One officer in a small motorcar could go round the streets and see whether the law was being obeyed; and, as I say, a few prosecutions for these offences would bring the relevant law to the notice of those concerned and would ensure that it was obeyed.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am happy to take the opportunity to support my noble friend. I would express to him my apologies that, because of another commitment, I did not hear his speech. But I have read carefully what he has set out, and I remember very well what he said in your Lordships' House with such a convincing degree of reasoning several years ago. I regretted at that time that the Government did not act on his recommendations. Since then I have had many opportunities of talking with him about this matter and learning his views.

There was a time, long ago, before the days of penal taxation, nationalisation and myxomatosis, when two subjects had an impressive way of filling your Lordships' House. Those subjects were coal and rabbits. Land-owners always attended debates on them in great force. That is something regarding which at the moment this House is, in the short term, going to the dogs we are surely "going to the dogs" to-day in this debate. I was robbed of the opportunity of hearing the arguments advanced by several previous speakers, but that does not in any way modify my conviction that my noble friend is right in putting forward his reasons. There are, however, two or three thoughts that I would add.

Emotion will come out with regard to pets. Whether they be dogs or cats or pigeons, they always seem to raise strong feelings of emotion. Even pests arouse the compassion of some speakers. I happen to farm in a small way in Surrey, and I keep a few sheep. When they get old and in very cold weather some ewes die. The compassion of people is aroused by telephone calls about a dead sheen in a field; but people in this country forget that in the last drought in Australia 12 million sheep died. That is nature, my Lords. In a game reserve animals kill each other. Though I did not hear all the views of my noble friends, on this question of compassion about pets I am sure there is much greater cruelty in keeping dogs long beyond the time when they are active, and thinking it good for them that they should have a lot of food so that they can hardly waddle about. That is much more cruel than putting dogs down.

The noble Earl, Lord Arran, protested against the spaying of bitches. That is a simple operation with any female animal, and it is done continuously. I did not hear my noble friend's reasoning, but I should have thought, with all the cur bitches that there are about, it would be a very good thing that they should be spayed. I would emphasise that the export of dogs from this country is a valuable business and it is important that the breeds should be kept pure. The absurdity of the low licence fee, and the freedom given to dogs to run about all over the country, getting into all the dangers which were explained by my noble friend, surely merits a reduction in the number of dogs. We all know about countries overseas where there are immense numbers of dogs running about, all of them curs of the worst kind. We do not want that sort of thing in this country; we want some sort of control.

My Lords, I could go on for a long time expressing my own feelings about this matter. I have been a dog owner from boyhood, and I have had the responsibility of keeping a large kennel. Dogs are put down when they reach a certain age, and it is in their interests that this should be done. It is an act of compassion and is not cruel. I say that with knowledge and experience, and with conviction. With those few words, and without having attempted to go into the many arguments in support of my noble Friend, I hope most emphatically that the Government will see their way to out into effect some of his recommendations. I support my noble friend wholeheartedly and if he does not get satisfaction, and divides the House, I shall follow him into the Division Lobby.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Ailwyn very strongly on this question of increasing the licence fee for dogs. I must apologise for coming into the debate rather late, but that was unavoidable as I was otherwise engaged. As I came into the Chamber I heard my noble friend Lord Ferrers say that in his opinion if you put a tax of £2 on dogs you would get even more evasion because people would he more inclined to avoid a higher tax than a lower tax. I do not think that that really works out in practice. Some of my friends who pay rather excessive sur-tax do not avoid that tax, any more than the people who pay a very small tax do. It has been asked why we should not tax cats, budgerigars and goldfish. If we taxed cats—and I can say this because I am not dependent upon the popular vote, thank heaven!—the result would be that we should have no cats. I cannot say that I am particularly fond of cats—they are rather selfish animals; but I am extremely fond of dogs.

My noble friend has said that 6,000 stray dogs are put down every week, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that, though he could not give a precise figure, in his opinion the number was about 3,000. Whether it is 3,000 or 6,000, that is a shocking state of affairs. We are, of course, an urban society, and the trouble is that people go to a pet shop, see an attractive little puppy and think, "Oh, how lovely!" and buy a puppy. Probably they get annoyed when it dirties their carpets. Perhaps when it grows older, it is not so attractive: they get bored with it, and set it free. There are even cases, which I have read about in the papers, of people going away on holiday and leaving their dog locked up in their house. I am convinced that if we raise the licence fee we shall stop the frivolous type of dog-owner from buying puppies.

I should like to make a point about working dogs. I have had many dogs in my life, and I used to work sheepdogs a great deal. I should like to see the owners of sheepdogs completely exempted, as I understand to some extent they are, from paying any tax. After all, if we take the days before tractors, there was no tax on horses and they did all the farm work; and on a sheep farm the sheepdogs do the majority of the work. Therefore it appears inconsistent that sheepdogs should be taxed when farm horses were not.

My noble friend Lord Arran suggested using a pill to stop dogs breeding. That is not really practicable. As everybody knows, you have only to shut your bitch up and you will not have that trouble. But here again we come down to the case of the frivolous dog-owner, who does not bother to shut up his bitch, with the result that she gets in pup and there is all the trouble that ensues. I heartily support an increased fee. I would make it even higher: I would go as high as £4. Before I end, I should like to add that old-age pensioners should be free from tax on their dogs. I know one or two who get great joy from their dogs, which of course have the greatest virtue that one can look for—loyalty. It is an appalling state of affairs when we have all these stray dogs turned out and ill-treated, and I support the increase in tax in the hope that this will stop the frivolous dog-owner.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Ailwyn for having put down this Motion this afternoon, and I am particularly grateful to him for having introduced it in an entirely factual way, without trying to make appeals to our emotions, which are all too readily roused when it is a question of dogs and other animals. I think that the right reverend Prelate hit the nail quite squarely on the head when he said that the problem we are discussing this afternoon is not only that of dogs but of the duty which a Christian community—and I am sure that if he were here he would agree, any community—owe to their animals.

Though we have heard to-day much about dogs, they are not the only creatures which are constantly neglected and deserted. Anybody who has had anything to do with a zoo can tell of the number of foxes, badgers and other wild creatures that are brought to him at the end of the summer when the creatures which captivated somebody when they were young are found to have become rather a strain and a trial, and are offered to the zoo by people who want to be without the sort of responsibility which they undertook when they first took the animals in charge. Zoos are offered an immense number of animals other than dogs monkeys that are not so attractive as they were in the pet shop; snakes and alligators, which people think would look rather nice in their sitting rooms but are found to be more of a chore than a plaything. Indeed, it is said in New York that they pull the plug on them, because the whole of the New York sewers are filled with an ever-increasing crowd of alligators which have been disposed of in that way.

I suppose that the worst thing that happens in this country is what happens to tortoises. Every year between a quarter and a half of a million tortoises are imported into this country. These are animals which would normally live for a very long time, and if they all survived the country would be overrun by tortoises at the end of half-a-dozen years. But every year an increasing number are imported, only to be neglected and to die before the winter something of which any community should be ashamed.

I have been totally out of order, of course, in talking about these other animals on a Motion devoted to dogs, but I want to make it quite clear to your Lordships that the carelessness of which we have heard this afternoon is not confined to the treatment some people mete out to their dogs; and although this treatment is meted out by a relatively small proportion of people, it is nevertheless a significant number, and a great deal of unnecessary suffering goes on which it is our duty to try to stop. I think that this can best be done by education. In schools to-day children are increasingly told how to look after pets and animals, and that is all to the good. I hope that the next generation will treat their dogs and other animals better than a great many of their parents and grandparents did.

A great deal can be done by the voluntary societies and is being done by them to-day. The London Zoo, for instance, issues pamphlets on the care of pets. The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare produces a standard book on the care of laboratory animals. And we have heard to-day of the great amount of valuable work that is done by the R.S.P.C.A.—far too much to detail in a sentence. Perhaps in art unreformed House of Lords Peers by succession who attend less than 33⅓ per cent. of the time can do a little towards educating the public, particularly when they are gratified by that rather kinder definition of them than the old-fashioned term "Backwoodsmen" that is usually applied to them.

Having said that education is essential, I would add that I think the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, and other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have made out the case—and I hope the noble Lord opposite will say that the Government can accept it—that a great deal can be done to prevent this tip of the iceberg, which applies to dogs, and dogs only, and to mitigate the undoubted suffering that is quite unnecessarily inflicted on a good many dogs. I do not want to contravene the Parliament Act by starting to talk about the price of a dog's licence, but if only it were made obligatory for people to produce a dog's licence when buying a dog, I think all these terrible things that we have been hearing this afternoon would disappear, even if the price of a dog licence were only 6d. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept this Motion.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support in full measure my noble friend Lord Ailwyn in the Motion which he has put before the House. I cannot follow the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, particularly when he compares dogs to canaries and goldfish. Canaries and goldfish are kept in enclosures of some kind, and they are not generally known as "the friend of man". Nor can I follow him in the application of the law, as it stands, in relation to sheepdogs. It has not been my experience that the law has been enforced in the manner in which the Act expected it to be enforced. My experience is that sheepdogs, as a whole, are not attacked. The Act is not normally enforced there. I hasten to add that I myself no longer keep sheep.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend would not wish to do me an injustice. I did not, in fact, compare a dog with a cat or a goldfish.


My Lords, I submit that there is a big difference between putting a licence on an animal which is enclosed, and on one that is not enclosed and runs loose. There is, with respect, a fundamental difference there.

My Lords, my own opinion as to the fee is that it should be at least £2. Anything less would not emphasise the responsibility of ownership. After all, consider how much is being spent by dog owners, and very willingly spent, on the well-advertised dog foods. It is a most prosperous industry for those who have shares in it. I agree that exemptions from the law requiring dog licences should be continued as at present, and must be extended to old-age pensioners—though here I must declare some interest.

There is one point that I should like to make with regard to Scotland. In Scotland, I think dog licence fees are still collected by the Customs and Excise. I say that because I could not find my current dog licence, and the last one I had was not so long ago, and it certainly was from the Customs and Excise. I think it would be an advantage if, in this respect, Scotland were to come into line with England, and if the licence fees were collected by the local authority.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Cranbrook that it would be a good idea if either the first licence fee could be collected by the seller of the pup or notification had to be sent by the seller to the local authority. I think this would stop a leakage. But, most particularly. I support my noble friend Lord Mansfield in praise of the proposition put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. His suggestion of the annual dog tags, as issued in the States and Provinces of North America, is a very good one. It is simple, easily understood and has the great benefit that, if it can be kept up to date, as the noble Earl so clearly explained, public opinion will enforce payment of the licence.

My Lords, I have a proposition to make which will sound quite outrageous, I am afraid, to some noble Lords present, but I am certain in my own mind that it strikes at the very root of the problem and, in the long run, is essential to the proper solution of the problem. I am informed that this solution is working well in certain States in North America—indeed, at one moment I rather expected the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, to mention it. It is quite a simple solution; namely, to double the tax on bitches unless they are spayed. Limiting the number of puppies of miscellaneous and unwanted parentage will remove the basic source of trouble, and it will also reduce the number of road accidents caused by dogs overcome, as I am sure your Lordships understand, as only dogs can be overcome.

But before effect can be given to this suggestion, there must be some research, both into the methods of spaying and into the age of the bitch at the time of spaying. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, has spoken of this. I think a good deal more is understood about methods of spaying, but there is still some difficulty about the age at which it is possible to get a satisfactory result. It is conceivable, as was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that a contraceptive pill for a bitch might be discovered, but it has not yet been discovered. It is not without the bounds of possibility, but I submit that it would put rather much on the owner of the bitch at the time she came into season. I am not quite certain how it could be put into operation. But if the technique of spaying could be further advanced, it would, I think, be the better way.

There is this tremendous increase in recent years in the number of owners of dogs. Consequently, there is a tremendous increase in the number of people who have dogs just to "keep up with the Joneses" in the other semi-detached, as they have other things for that reason. Something must be done or we shall be still more overrun and confronted with unwanted dogs. A long time ago, but I believe it is still true, William Blake said—and with this thought I will sit down— A dog starved at his master's gate Predicts the ruin of the State".

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, coming at the end of a long list of speakers, I find there is not a great deal remaining for me to say, but I should like to raise just one or two points before the noble Lord replies. This is a problem which has been crying out for solution for years, and we should all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Ailwyn for having put down this Motion today and for the extremely convincing way in which he spoke to it. The legal side of the matter is important. It is important to have laws which are enforceable, because if we go on making laws which it is impossible to enforce we shall do nothing but bring the law into disrepute; and that is something we should avoid doing at all costs. The solution which I had all ready up my sleeve to deliver as a great novelty to your Lordships this afternoon was put, much better than I could have put it, by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, and later confirmed by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. There is no doubt that something of the kind they suggested could be adopted, so that it would be perfectly obvious whether or not a dog was licensed for the current year. I suggest, too, that the tab which the dog wears on its collar should in all circumstances bear the owner's name and address.

As to the amount of the licence, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to whose opinion I always listen with respect, said that we are in no position to recommend to the Government an increase in taxation. But, surely, this is merely a suggestion. If we carry this Motion to a Division and suggest the increase, it is not forcing the Government to do something. It is merely recommending it to them. I do not see that this is entirely beyond our province, although I naturally bow to the noble Lord's greater knowledge on that subject.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? One could say exactly the same thing about rejecting a Finance Bill. It is merely a recommendation: it is the view of this House that the Bill ought to be rejected.


My Lords, a Finance Bill is legislation; we are now considering merely a Motion.


Yes, my Lords; there is no legislation at all involved in this Motion. It is merely, as my noble friend says, a recommendation.

The speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers (I am sorry he is not here to hear me say so), was, I think, about as full of false assumptions as it could possibly have been. He suggested that raising the licence fee would mean even more evasion. If the methods which have been so ably presented to your Lordships were adopted, then of course it would not. Because the licence of a car costs a great deal more than it once did, has that caused more evasion? I am not aware that it has. So I do not think there is anything in that argument at all.

From the humanitarian point of view, too, I think this matter is important. There are too many people who buy a puppy for their children from the local pet shop, because they think it will amuse them. Perhaps it does for the time being. But of course the owner knows nothing whatsoever about dogs. He has not the faintest idea how to feed one, how to train it, how to exercise it or how to keep it in good condition. However, there the dog lives for perhaps a year or so. By that time the dog has grown up and the children have grown a little older, and they cease to have the interest in it that they had. What happens? In only too many cases the owner takes the dog to some part of London with which he is totally unacquainted and drops it there and leaves it. That is why we have so many stray dogs, and that is why we have to build colossal dogs' homes, like the Battersea Dogs' Home, to give them all a home until somebody has mercy on them. It is important to put a stop to this practice, and raising the licence fee would help to do so. I should like to see it raised even as high as £5, because if people are not prepared to pay as much for a dog as they are for their television, then they are not worthy of owning a dog. I feel that if the licence fee were raised to that figure we should stop this absolutely irresponsible buying of puppies.

I come now to a third aspect of the subject, which is road safety. There is no doubt that dogs have caused an enormous number of accidents on the road, because no motorist will see a dog running across the road in front of him without swerving; he does it almost without thinking: it is instinctive in anybody. I have some figures from the Automobile Association. In 1967 16 accidents caused by dogs proved fatal; there were 470 which caused serious injury, and 2,000 which caused slight injury. Those accidents involved dogs only, plus the cars, naturally. I think those figures make one stop and think. I believe it would be a good thing if the Government could introduce some legislation to the effect that no dog should be allowed off the lead in a built-up area. My Lords, I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take this Motion into the Lobby, and if he does I shall most certainly follow him.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to crave your Lordships permission to intervene—


My Lords, I put down my name at the Table. I apologise for not having put it down before. I will certainly wait to speak until after the noble Lord, Lord Strange, has spoken if he would prefer me to do so. I will speak either before or after him, whichever he would like, but I think that probably he should speak first.


My Lords, it is very kind of the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, to let me speak first. I promise that I shall speak for only about half of one of my seconds, which is about five minutes of your minutes. I had to intervene at the end, because the subject on which I would have put my name down to speak has never arisen. Perhaps I should declare that I have a dog. Well, perhaps I had better say that the dog has me. She pretty well rules my life. She has been waiting for me at the aerodrome when I have returned from a journey. She is a small terrier called Tig. It will be all right with her, because I can tell her that I am an old-age pensioner, although I do not get a pension. She always says that she kills rats. She does not, but she is a terrier and she should kill rats. She certainly hunts them, so therefore she is a working dog and should be excused. So I will put it all right with this dog. In any case, she once saved my life on television, of all things. I was being interviewed, and I was asked a question which it was impossible to answer. Just as I was wondering what to say, this dog jumped up and barked loudly. I said, "Shut up". Then I turned to the interviewer and said, "I don't mean you, I mean Tig". As a result, the interviewer forgot the question that he had been putting to me.

Throughout the world the dog population is rising, and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, may possibly deal with that problem. In order to feed the dogs all the wild animals are being killed. Kangaroos are being machine-gunned and the mustangs or wild horses, in all countries are being killed. People are killing everything they can get hold of to feed these unnecessary dogs. If the action which we are requesting is taken, thus stopping more and more dogs eating all this pet food, it will be a great boon to the poor wild creatures who are being slaughtered in order to feed them.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for rising a second time. I had not intended to speak in this debate, because I am possibly more ignorant in regard to dogs than most Members of your Lordships' House, but if the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, is going to divide the House I am tempted to support him, subject to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, may say. I should like to explain briefly my reasons for this.

I have listened to almost all the speeches in this debate and I should like to refer to two of them, apart from that made by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn. The noble Lord said only two things with which I did not agree, or which I did not think went far enough: first, he said he would not appeal to our emotions, but he certainly did appeal to mine, to some extent. For that reason I want to be as objective as I can in giving my reasons for supporting him. He also referred to the dog as being man's most faithful friend. That may or may not be true, but the dog is certainly not only a friend: the dog is generally regarded as a pet or a servant. My own feeling is—and it has been supported by several of your Lordships—that the more one treats a dog as a pet and the less one treats it as a servant, the less happy it will be and the more nuisance it will be to other people. I think that principle is to some extent acknowledged in the fact that in the main the only exemptions from dog licensing are dogs which are frankly servants, such as sheep dogs, guide dogs, and dogs that are of some use. I feel that in any review of the licensing situation that point should be taken into account. If there were a luxury tax it should be on friends rather than on servants.

The other two speeches I should like to mention briefly are those of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. Taking them in reverse order, when the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, was speaking I made notes, and looking at them now I found that I put down "Yes", "Yes", "Yes". Undoubtedly the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will have answers as to why the system adopted in Canada and other countries, which seems to me to be admirable, should not be adopted here. I thought the most effective argument against the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, was that made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on two points. In the first place he asked, "Why only dogs?". I will not go into that aspect now because it would take too long. In my view there are reasons, but I will not elaborate them, although in any case I would not accept the principle that because one cannot do the right thing in every case one should not do it in a particular case. His main point, with which I will conclude, was that he would abolish licences because he felt that if we raised the licence fee or even kept it at the present rate, it would tend to escalate. The reason this did not convince me, though it is an argument with which I sympathise a great deal, is that I quite understand there are other reasons for asking for licences besides the keeping of dogs. One has to have a licence for experimenting on dogs, one has to have a "licence" for arresting people, one has to have a licence for selling intoxicating liquor, one has to have a licence for broadcasting and one has to have a licence for carrying offensive weapons.

If I were trying to find an argument to refute that of the noble Earl, I should have to invent the case of a police dog or an ex-police dog which had been experimented on in a rocket, which had escaped under remote control and, in doing so, had arrested a person with undue violence by biting in the ankle some pedestrian (possibly some postman), and, without being a lap dog, had sat in his lap and had broadcast by barking through a loudspeaker. It seems to me to be a very remote possibility that all those things could have happened, and I do not believe anything quite so fantastic as that is a good enough reason for rejecting out of hand the noble Lord's suggestion.

I await the reply which is to be made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and unless he says something which convinces me to the contrary I shall vote in favour of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, if it is taken to a Division.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I crave your indulgence for speaking at this late stage in the debate, but I feel impelled to do so because of some of the observations made on an aspect of this matter which I think has not been sufficiently emphasised, namely, the excessive fouling of the streets. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, indicated his opinions on this subject and also suggested remedies. I should like to emphasise strongly how excessive this fouling is, certainly in some parts of London. If noble Lords were to visit South-East London they would find that the streets themselves would speak louder than words could ever do.

The noble Lord said that this was an aspect that was offensive to tourists. It is offensive to the citizens of those streets as well. But, bad as that aspect may be, to my mind it is not nearly as bad as the threat to health which this pollution involves. In many of our streets, owing to the lack of proper play facilities there are numbers of children playing, and I do not think I need dilate upon the threat to the health of those children, as well as to other people, caused by the fouling by dogs. It is true to say that there are by-laws and regulations which have been designed either to reduce or prevent this situation. In many of the streets in South-East London almost every second lamp post has a notice which indicates the penalties which would be imposed if fouling of the streets were permitted by the dog owners. May I say that I do not know of a single case where anyone has been brought to book because of this circumstance, which simply means that the notices put there are a waste of public money because no one takes the slightest notice of them.

It may well be that if the action described in the Motion were brought into effect it might produce the result of reducing the dog population. I do not know; I am not expert in these matters. I think it would, and to that extent I should be favourably disposed to it. Nevertheless there may be other, more weighty, arguments against doing it. My purpose in rising is to ask the Government representatives whether it is possible to do anything in respect of dogs—cats to some extent, but in the main dogs—to enforce the regulations, which would reduce the excessive (and I underline excessive and I am choosing my words) pollution which certainly occurs in some of the areas which I cover.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, if at this late hour you can endure one more speech, I promise to be short. I support Lord Ailwyn's Motion wholeheartedly. There is one aspect that has only been touched on very slightly and that was by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. I have been a dog owner all my life. I have bred them, bought them, been given them. I rescued one from Battersea, and I think years ago I stole one. However, that is by the way. But I have never yet seen any of the pamphlets which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said the Zoo and other organisations distribute. I am convinced that there is cruelty and suffering caused by dog owners who are probably affectionate but have not got a clue how to look after their animals.

Do they know, the ordinary (for want of a better word) "mug" dog owners, that a dog cannot live healthily on household scraps and cannot live healthily unless he gets exercise? It is absolute mental torture to him to be chained up all day. He is miserable, more particularly if he is by himself shut up in a house. And does the ordinary "mug" owner of a bitch know that Amplex is a pretty fair preventative? There is another aspect of it, too. It is probably a good many years since any noble Lord here to-day has had to sleep on the floor, but if you cast your mind back you will remember what a miserable, uncomfortable place it was, not because it was hard but because it was draughty. Dogs cannot sleep comfortably or lie by day on the bare floor they want a box or a bench, and both of these are infinitely better than what is in common use, the basket, which lets in all the draught unless it has a bit of canvas round it.

These are the sort of elementary points to which I think a very large proportion of dog owners are completely oblivious. I think the R.S.P.C.A., an organisation for which I used to hold a great esteem, should get down to the education of dog owners in this country. Although, as I say, I have been a dog owner all my life, I have never yet met one of the pamphlets to which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, referred, and he has done great service in mentioning them to-day.


My Lords, may I say that I was referring not to dogs but to tortoises and similar pets.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a wonderfully full and informative debate on this Motion, and I want to add my thanks to those expressed by many others, in all parts of the House, to the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, for bringing up this question. It was time to have another look at it. I will start by speaking about some of the more peripheral points raised before coming to the main thread of the argument, which I take to be the law about licensing.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and my noble friend Lord Carron were worried about the mess question. There is, of course, power to local authorities to make by-laws about fouling the pavement; and many do. I think that in London it is quite usual. Lord Amulree asked about prosecutions under these by-laws. Unfortunately, the Government do not know, because when a local authority makes a by-law and somebody is prosecuted the authority does not have to tell the Government, so there is no central record. My noble friend Lord Carron said he did not know of anyone being brought to book. I should like to ask him, and through him, as it were, all other citizens annoyed by dogs' messes on the pavements, how often they have done anything about it by stopping the guilty party and saying, "What is your name? You have broken a by-law and I shall report you to the local authority." There is not much else the ordinary citizen can do, but I suspect that they do not do it very often, and I wish they would.

The local authorities have powers to appoint wardens to look out for this sort of thing, breaking of by-laws. It is not a very attractive job to spend your day walking up and down watching people: you do not even have a periscope or a telescope; it is a humdrum existence. But there are wardens appointed by local authorities to look after observation of laws and by-laws about dogs. It would be difficult for the Government to urge local authorities to appoint more such wardens during the present economic stringency.

The noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, spoke of the Canadian system. Let me say at once that I will suggest to my right honourable friend that he takes the steps suggested by Lord Iddesleigh: that we find out how it works in Canada and the United States, and various other countries—Finland is one—where we hear well of the system. It immediately occurs to me that although it is quite clear what a policeman has to do when he sees a dog with a collar and lacking the metal tag, or with a tag of the wrong shape, it is not clear what he does when he finds a dog without a collar. It does not mean the owner has not licensed the dog or is unwilling to reveal his name and address round the dog's neck. It may also mean, I think, particularly ill the case of those large orange dogs with small heads and thick necks in relation to their heads—I cannot remember what they are called.



No, not so recherché as that. At any rate the dog I am thinking of gets out of its collar, although it may have a most law-abiding owner.

On the question of contraceptives versus spaying of bitches, I hesitate to enter into this field because of the great expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in all these matters, but I am told that it is quite easy to get a contraceptive pill, or preparation, or powder, for bitches, and that obviously it is much better to do it through a vet; indeed, it is impossible to do it without veterinary advice. But if this is what the owner wants to do, it is within the compass of modern technology and it seems a sensible thing to do.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, both touched on a point to which I shall return and which I think is the crux of the matter; that is, education, whether of tortoise owners or those owners who are the subject of the Motion to-day, dog owners. It is clear that this is the best way forward and in the long run the only way forward. The R.S.P.C.A. provide some education, and so does the Zoo. I hope that these bodies will read the remarks of noble Lords this afternoon and consider whether they might do more. I do not know whether they should. The Government themselves, through my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, take television "spots" and place newspaper advertisements, have articles written and publicise some of the legal obligations which lie upon dog owners.

Lord Somers raised the question of motor accidents caused by drivers swerving to avoid dogs, and he proposed that the remedy should be a law that owners should keep their dogs on a lead in the town. That may be so. I do not want to go into that matter because, if I have read it correctly, I would point out that it is outside the terms of the Motion.

Let me come now to the main thread of to-day's debate. By the courtesy of the right reverend Prelate who was speaking earlier, I intervened on the question of figures. In this field figures are almost impossible to get. There are many figures from which nobody can derive an answer. First and foremost, there is the number of evasions. In so far as the House will have to make up its mind on this question, I would say with some confidence that nobody knows, and nobody can know, the number of evasions of the dog licence laws at this moment. What we do know is that there are about 3,000 prosecutions a year. This, of course, is quite a large number. Whether it suggests a high rate of evasion, once again, we cannot know. What it suggests is a fairly high rate of proceedings against evaders.

Secondly, in regard to the number of strays, our main sources of information on this point must be the police and the R.S.P.C.A. If we collate the evidence which they offer to the Government, with the greatest reservation about its accuracy, we get the probability of something in the neighbourhood of a quarter of a million dogs which become known as stray dogs and are dealt with as stray dogs during any year. The police deal with about 50,000 and the R.S.P.C.A. deal with about 200,000. That is their information to my right honourable friend.

"Dealing with", in the case of the police, means either tracing the owner or getting it back to the owner, or, usually, passing it to the R.S.P.C.A. if they cannot find the owner. "Dealing with", for the R.S.P.C.A., means either finding the owner if they can do so when the police have failed, or selling the dog or, if no home can be found for it, then finally destroying it. The R.S.P.C.A. are not in a position to say how many dogs they destroy in a year. They are not willing to commit themselves to what proportion of the 200,000 are destroyed. Certainly, it is the majority of that figure. This is the reason why I said, with all reservation, that it might not be much more than half of the 6,000 a week that Lord Ailwyn mentioned. This is not to minimise the problem. Even if it is just the 3,000 a week, it is, as noble Lords will realise, still a horrible number.

On the question of yield of tax, the yield at the moment is about £1 million a year. So, as it stands, although the tax yield is not chicken-feed, it is not a large element in local authority revenue. Some noble Lords inquired whether the exemption from tax for young puppies under six months old ought not to be abolished. There are a number of obstacles in the way of this. First and foremost is the fact that so many puppies die anyhow in early infancy that prima facie it would be unfair to the ordinary dog owner to demand that he should "fork out" 7s. 6d. for every one of a litter of six or eight puppies or, as Lord Mansfield has reminded us, anything up to a dozen in the case of Alsatians, if a number of them are going to die shortly afterwards. Once one admits that, one must admit also that for traders who sell young puppies—and this is the most convenient age for the buying and selling of dogs—it would be inconvenient and unjust to "fork out" the first year's licence on the life of a young dog.

Then you come up against the question, since there should be an exemption for really young animals, of where one should draw the line. At the moment it is drawn at six months. I understand that the point about six months is that, roughly speaking, that is the time at which a puppy gets its first molars. So you look into the mouth to see whether it is more or less than six months old. There is no other time at which you can determine age with so much ease, and that is why six months has been adopted as the dividing age. Those are the difficulties in the way of changing the age of licensing.


My Lords, could not that problem be got over by exempting dog-breeders from having to pay tax on their litters of puppies, but providing that any puppy which is sold should immediately be subject to tax?


Well, my Lords, this is getting like a computer, because there is not only the dog-breeder and the trader in dogs but there is also the ordinary dog owner. Such a law might make difficulties for that person as well. But I should like to consider at leisure, if I may, the suggestion of the noble Lord.

Now to come to the great question of the level of the licence fee. It is 7s. 6d. at the moment. Since our last debate in this House the Government have been considering this matter, and, naturally enough, just as this House has been sharply divided in its view about what ought to be done, so the Government have found it difficult to come to any clear conclusion about what change ought to be made. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggested, one could abolish the tax altogether and let dogs go free of licence. One could leave the fee as it now stands. Or, as Lord Ailwyn's Motion suggests, one could raise it, and possibly tighten up other parts of the legislation at the same time.

It would be attractive enough to abolish it. That would mean a lot less niggling work for a large number of people. There would be a lot less niggling form-filling of applications for a great many dog owners. On the other hand, it would lose the State revenue of £1 million a year. During the present phase of economies in Government expenditure, both central and local, and during the present phase of care to maintain revenue, in the absence of overriding reasons for getting rid of it, or lowering it, it has not seemed to the Government justifiable, attractive as the idea would be, to abolish the licensing system altogether.

On the other hand, if we turn to the possibility of raising the fee, we run into manifold difficulties. To begin with, it is, as I say, only 7s. 6d. It is true that it has been with us for 90 years. It would not be worth raising it by half-a-crown, to 10s. 0d. There would be no point in that. If you think in terms of raising it to £l or £2, as we have discussed here today, you run up against the difficulty of die Government's present prices policy. It would he quite unattractive to do that at a time when the Government are doing their level best to prevent anybody else from raising the price of anything by more than a quite small amount; when we are controlling rents in an unprecedented manner; when we are referring this, that and the other to the Prices and Incomes Board to get the best advice that we can obtain.


My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that his Government have raised the price of a game licence from £3 to £5? Surely, that would justify present action.


Well, my Lords, straight off the top of my hat it occurs to me to say that I understand that the number is probably not quite so high, in proportion, as the number of dog licences. If you think of a large rise you are up against the question of pensioners: because if it is true that the dog is man's best friend, it is obvious that the dog is an even better friend to old men and old women. In common humanity it would seem possible to have a large rise only if there were an exemption for pensioners. Such exemptions tend to cost nearly as much to administer as would be gained by "upping" the tax for licence fees to all the others who were not exempt. That is a strong argument against doing it that way. There is also the question of abuse, because not all pensioners live alone and rely on a dog. Many of them live with their children and grandchildren, and it would be extremely tempting for any family to say, "Let us license the dog—or dogs—in the name of grandfather, because he is a pensioner and it will get a lower rate".

Perhaps the greatest difficulty of all is to know whether or not an increase in the licence fee would reduce this terrible annual figure of the destruction of stray dogs. I know of no reason to suppose it would. On the one hand there is the argument that it will make people think twice about getting a dog if they have to pay £2 instead of 7s. 6d. On the other hand, there is the argument that they will be more likely to try to avoid the payment in the first place, if it is higher.

I think the House should be reminded —this point has not been mentioned to-day—that when the dog licence fee was first introduced all those years ago it was not introduced to protect dogs or to prevent the avoidable killing of dogs. It was introduced to raise revenue. If we have now come to think of it in the context of the attraction of avoiding suffering to dogs and not in the sheer revenue context, we are doing something which is completely untested, and it is a very doubtful question indeed as to whether it would have the result we all desire to achieve.

What should be done? I am convinced that the answer lies in education: that is, that those people—and I do not think there are very many people, after all, if you consider the millions of dogs in the country—who at the moment think it is all right, having got a dog, just to drive away and leave it by the roadside, should, by the slow process of education, come to believe the opposite; namely, that it is not at all right to do so, and that one should obtain a dog only if one is confident of being able either to keep it or to pass it on when one no longer wants it to somebody who is willing to keep it. This is a long-term problem, partly for the R.S.P.C.A., perhaps not so much for the Zoo, arid partly for the Government information services, in that we inform the public about the legal duties through the Ministry of Agriculture's information machinery.

To return to the Motion, my noble friend Lord Silkin said that taxation is not for us, and it is quite true that taxation is not for us. However, it is equally true that if any noble Lord wishes to put down a Motion about taxation he is in order in doing so. I understand that if he wished to introduce a Bill which would have the effect of changing a tax or a licence fee he would be in order in doing so, although what view the House of Commons would take of that is something about which any noble Lord can make up his own mind. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that the useful purpose of this afternoon's discussion—and it has been extremely useful—has already been served in that we have discussed it, and that the manifold and ingenious suggestions for improvement which noble Lords have advanced are on the record in Hansard and will be studied by the Government in coming to a decision upon what is the right solution to this difficult problem. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, proposes to do about his Motion, but I think myself that if he were to find it right to withdraw it nothing would be lost in terms of wisdom contributed to the general debate, and nothing would be lost in terms of arriving at the right executive solution when it is possible to see one's way more clearly—even more clearly than we do as a result of this afternoon's debate.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord opposite for the great trouble he has taken in dealing with a multitude of points. I am only distressed about the numbers that I gave and which he finds are exaggerated. I used to be a member of the R.S.P.C.A. some years ago. I have the greatest admiration and confidence in their figures as a general rule, and I am quite unable to understand how the noble Lord thinks that it is only half the number that I stated. I am quite sure that he is speaking with complete truth over this business, but I just do not understand it.

I should also like to thank all noble Lords for the astonishing volume of support I have had from all quarters of the House, except from my noble friend below me. I am sorry about my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I thought better of him. But I tremble to think what the result of doing away with the tax would be in the country. The whole country would then be swarming with dogs all over the place. It does not seem to me to make sense at all. I am not going to deal with all the various points that have been raised, except to say that I have listened to them with great interest and with the greatest gratitude. The whole point is, as I see it, that humans are able to look after themselves, but dogs have to rely on us humans for their wellbeing. We are dealing with flesh and blood; we are dealing with living, breathing, loving creatures whose only weakness is their utter devotion to, and dependence on, man.

I have received a great deal of support outside, from all sections of the public, from Dukes to dustmen, for the proposals I have made. The Government have intimated by their reply that they are willing to perpetuate this shameful slaughter of dogs which I have described. This problem has been with us for years, and I, being, alas! one of those unfortunates, a member of that lowest form of human life, a hereditary Peer—and a very old one at that—am unlikely to have another chance to try to persuade, or, I would almost say, to shame, the Government to take the urgent action I believe to be necessary. My Lords, I have failed to extract from the Government the pledge that I have asked for, and that is that immediate and unequivocal attention shall be given to this matter. In view of the volume of support I have had from all quarters of the House I must ask your Lordships to support me in the Division Lobby.


My Lords, with the leave of the House and the noble Lord before he sits down, I can give him that pledge. Immediate and unequivocal attention will be given to this matter.


My Lords, I am much obliged.

On Question, Motion agreed to.