HL Deb 20 February 1969 vol 299 cc907-10

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they have taken, are taking, or are proposing to take, with a view to implementing the terms of the Motion agreed to by this House on 7th November, 1968, calling for legislation relating to the welfare and control of dogs, and for the amendment of the Dog Licences Act 1959.]


My Lords, having, since the last debate, examined the need for new legislation, the Government are not at present persuaded that changes in the Dog Licences Act 1959 would serve to promote the welfare of dogs or make their owners more responsible.


My Lords, observing that I gave Her Majesty's Government three whole months in which to scratch their heads over this matter, it is a little disappointing to hear the resulting reply. In any case, was it not a little unreasonable of them to ask me, only a week before I was due to ask this Question, to postpone it for a fortnight? Would the noble Lord not agree, further, that it was somewhat pusillanimous of the Government to refuse battle on this issue on November 7 last and to throw in the towel, acknowledging thereby what they clearly recognised would be a thumping defeat?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for agreeing to delay his Question for a week or two in order to allow the Government time to complete their examination of this matter in a rhythm which the importance of the subject justifies. As to "throwing in the towel", what happened was that, in accordance with the usual custom, the Government did not seek to impose any Whip on the House in this matter, and allowed it to proceed to a perfectly free vote. But from there on—I questions of pusillanimity, and so on—I would not accept the noble Lord's imputation.


My Lords, does the noble Lord accept, or does he refute, the statement I made at that time: that the fundamental urgency of this matter —the increase of the dog tax—requires no new legislation whatever, but can be enacted by order; that is, by a stroke of the pen of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as laid down in the Local Government Act 1966?


My Lords, since, in the view of the Government, this is not the moment to change the payment for dog licences, it does not appear to me to be of great significance whether, if it was changed, it would have to be changed by legislation or by order.


My Lords, could my noble friend tell me why the Minister of Food is concerned with dog licences?


My Lords, it is my right honourable friend the Minister of Food in his other capacity as Minister of Agriculture.


My Lords, could Her Majesty's Government tell the House whether, before coming to their conclusions, they made any effort at all to discover whether systems of dog licensing in use in foreign countries have not a certain superiority over our own?


My Lords, I remember the noble Earl's intervention on this subject in the debate, and the Government are still going into this matter.


My Lords, has the noble Lord's attention been drawn to a case which was described in the Daily Express on, I think, January 1, of a two-year-old boy who was severely mauled, and who eventually died of his injuries, by what was described in the paper as "a wild dog" but which, of course, was just one of the innumerable strays? And does he not think that that sort of case calls for a more strict control?


My Lords, it is an extremely complicated subject, but it does not seem to me clear that a dog which is unlicensed at £2 is any less likely to hurt a child than a dog which is unlicensed at any other fee. Indeed, the higher the fee the less likely you are to see all the dogs licensed.


My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that the most important step of all to be taken is to discourage the ownership of dogs by persons who are quite incapable and uninstructed in controlling them, and that the first essential is to put up the dog licence and educate the owners? Cannot the Government issue with dog licences a pamphlet for the guidance of "mug" dog owners? Is the noble Lord not aware that Messrs. Spillers have an excellent pamphlet on the subject, though it is possibly a little long, and that if some pamphlet like that could be issued it would be of very great assistance to dog owners everywhere? It is Spillers who do it, and I disclaim all interest.


My Lords, as I have just said, I do not agree that it would be a good thing at this moment to put up the dog licence; and, as I said in the debate on November 7, I heartily agree that the education of intending dog owners is of great importance.


My Lords, does the Minister think that if dog owners should not have licences unless they are suited to having dogs, parents should not be licensed to have children unless they are suited to have children?


My Lords, may I ask one final question? Is the noble Lord aware that, following the debate on dog licensing on November 7 last, well over 90 per cent. of the letters reaching me, the vast majority of which were from what I would call the lower-income group, expressed thanks and appreciation that at last some positive step had been taken in Parliament to persuade, or to try to persuade, the Government to increase the cost of the dog licence—many of them, incidentally, regretting that the proposal did not go further, and suggesting £5 and in some cases even more?


My Lords, I was aware of what the noble Lord said because he was courteous enough to give me advance warning. All that I can add is that the Government are grateful, as the House is grateful, to the noble Lord for having brought up this Question and for having given us the opportunity of discussing it in November last.


My Lords, has the noble Lord any further information about the reliability of the contraceptives for cats and dogs which were referred to in the previous debate, and which he said were easy to get?


My Lords, I regret that I have no further information at the moment. If the noble Earl would care to put down a Question on this subject I will try to get it.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that answer, may I ask a supplementary question? Would Her Majesty's Government, in view of the present unreliability of the preparations in question—which has been established——


My Lords, I really think that the noble Earl is embarking on the Question that he is about to ask in the future. This is rapidly turning into a debate. Although great skill has been shown by the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, I really think that it has just about run out now.

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