HL Deb 08 July 1974 vol 353 cc447-9

2.53 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 whether Her Majesty's Government's attention has been directed to the Press reports of an incident at a nursery school in Smethwick, Staffordshire, in which 30 small children, between the ages of three and five, had to be locked in classrooms for safety when the school was attacked, for a second time, by a pack of wild dogs, which was driven off only after fire brigade crews used "water cannons"; whether it is true, as stated, that the police possess no power to deal with such a situation; and, if that be so, whether Her Majesty's Government will now seek to provide powers for the police.


My Lords, the information given by my noble friend in the first part of his Question is, I understand, perfectly true. On June 27 a pack of about ten dogs was found underneath the school which, in fact, is built on stilts. The headmaster called the police, but by the time the police arrived the dogs had disappeared. They returned the next day and the headmaster on that occasion called the fire brigade. The fire brigade dealt with them in a very definite manner.

With regard to the second part of his Question, the police have certain powers under Section 3 of the Dogs Act, 1906, but the difficulty is that while they can deal with stray dogs, these must be on the public highway or in a public resort. This pack of dogs was certainly not on the highway and, legally, there is some doubt as to whether a school is a public resort. It is doubtful whether the police could have dealt with the situation had they been able to catch the dogs. I think it comes down to this, my Lords; the Act giving the police powers is unsatisfactory. There are two other Departments dealing with dogs; namely, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment. It is our intention to look at this Act to see, whether something can be done to strengthen the powers of the police and to prevent this kind of situation arising in the future.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for the very helpful end to his reply and ask him whether he is aware that, although this is the only known attack on a children's school, there are a number of places in the Midlands where dogs congregate, particularly in the grounds around high-rise blocks of flats, and terrorise the children to the extent that their parents are worried? Is he also aware that the Smethwick local authority is appointing a dog catcher? I think that that would only come under the earlier enactment to which the noble Lord referred, because you have to catch your dog before you can do anything about one, let alone 12.


My Lords, we realise that this is a serious matter, particularly with regard to children, and there appears to be some ambiguity so far as the law is concerned. I have given an undertaking that the Department concerned are proposing to look at this matter to see whether something much more satisfactory cannot be done.


My Lords, does not the noble Lord think that those people who are so callous with their dogs as to allow them to become wild are the people who should be prosecuted?


My Lords, this is a matter we could consider. As the noble Baroness knows, the police have power to take dogs if they are found to be straying on the highway, but the question then arises as to what is a stray dog.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government consider adjusting the price of dog licences to the fall in the the value of money, which might help in these matters?


I understand that this is a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I will see that the noble Lord's comment is drawn to their attention.