HL Deb 20 June 1975 vol 361 cc1185-99

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill deals only with a limited and clearly defined issue namely, the use of guard dogs. The Secretary of State for the Environment has set up a Working Party to consider all aspects of the law relating to dogs, so that any noble Lords who have other ideas and views about what should be done about dogs will have to await the report of that Working Party.

This Bill arises out of two tragic events. In April 1971, a two-year-old boy was grievously injured by two guard dogs on premises in Islington, and in July 1974 a ten-year-old boy was killed in Glasgow by two guard dogs owned by a private security organisation. In the light of those tragic events, an honourable friend of mine in another place introduced and got through a Bill to control the use of guard dogs. The Home Office, after some doubts about the Bill, agreed that it was necessary and gave my honourable friend great help in drafting Amendments to the Bill, which received its Third Reading on 18th May. Perhaps I had better point out two things that the Bill does not do, because this was not wholly understood in the debate in another place. It is not concerned with dogs, even if in ordinary parlance they are guard dogs, in private houses. That is made quite clear in Clause 6. Secondly, and this is not quite so obvious, by restricting a person protected by a guard dog to a person guarding premises as defined in the Bill, it exempts the use of guard dogs to protect a handler collecting or delivering money on premises such as shops and banks when the dog is present for only a few minutes.

The main provisions of the Bill are simple. Clause 1 prohibits the use of unattended guard dogs at premises as defined in the Bill. A guard dog may not be used at such premises unless at all times under the control of a handler capable of controlling the dog. If the handler is engaged for a period—for example. making himself a meal—and cannot have the dog under his immediate control, the dog must be chained or otherwise secured so as not to be at liberty to go freely about the premises. The handler can leave the premises only if another handler assumes control of the dog, and where a guard dog is on premises notices to that effect must be clearly displayed at all entrances. The other main provision of the Bill is in Clause 2, which says that a person carrying on the business of hiring out guard dogs must hold a licence in respect of his kennels. A person who contravenes the provisions of Clauses 1 or 2 renders himself liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £400. Clause 3 says that local authorities shall be the licensing authorities for kennels, and the Local Authority Association has concurred with this provision.

Everything cannot be put into the Bill and therefore the Secretary of State can make Regulations governing the issue of licences enabling, for instance, local authorities to charge a fee for a licence. The intention of the Bill is that it shall be self-financing, that it shall not impose any financial burden upon local authorities or any other organ of the State. The issue of licences will be annual and they will run for a year from the date on which they are first issued. The local authority can revoke a licence or amend its provisions. Regulations will also enable appeals to be made to a Magistrates' Court (or the equivalent court in Scotland) against a refusal by the local authority to grant a licence or the conditions imposed in a licence or the revocation of a licence. All regulations made under the Bill are subject to Negative Resolution procedure.

A court may cancel a licence granted by a local authority if the licensee is convicted of cruelty to animals under various Acts. Clause 7 states that the Secretary of State may by Regulation bring different parts of the Bill into force on different dates. This is because provisions about licensing are likely to be brought into force only after considerable delay. The Home Office will require considerable further consultations with the local authorities and although no financial burden falls on local authorities there would be some burden on their manpower and it would be unwise to impose this on them at this time.

As has been indicated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office in another place, Clause 1, which deals with the prohibition of the use of unattended dogs at premises, could be introduced very soon. This is the most important clause of the Bill in regard to the protection of members of the public against attack by guard dogs. I hope that it will be agreed that this is a useful and valuable Bill and that all reasonable interests have been consulted and properly catered for, and I hope your Lordships will grant this Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Gordon-Walker.)

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House are in general sympathy with the principles and motives of this Bill. It is certainly a vast improvement on the Bill which was originally introduced in another place in the form of the Dogs Bill. Consequently, with a few minor reservations as to some of the detailed provisions of the Bill which no doubt will be further improved in the Committee and on Report, we give this Bill our support.

It is not before time that comprehensive legislation has been introduced into Parliament in order to control the use of guard dogs. As the crime rate in this country has soared so the number of security firms and the use of these animals to protect property has increased. In 1961 there were only 20 companies in this country in the security business. Today, in the London area alone, it is estimated that there are over 500 such firms in operation, the majority of which are one-man-bands. Of course it is the less reputable firms that give cause for concern. The dangers are obvious. To begin with, if one employs one of these less reputable companies, the possibility is that no inspection will be made of the perimeter fencing around the property. The owner of the dogs may not be able to visit in one night all the sites where his dogs are being used. Possibly most serious of all, the dogs might not be properly trained for the job in hand.

The result is that more and more people are being attacked by guard dogs each year. In 1970, according to Home Office figures, 200 people were reported as being attacked by such dogs, and if the noble Lord. Lord Wells-Pestell, can tell the House, when he gives us the Government's attitude to the Bill, what are the latest figures for these attacks, I shall be grateful. One should remember, however, that these are only the attacks which have been reported. I do not believe anyone knows how many attacks really take place each year. These attacks can have tragic results, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, has pointed out. Possibly the two most infamous cases have been that of the two-year-old child who was seriously mauled by two guard dogs in Islington some four years ago, and the more recent case of the 10-year-old boy who was savaged to death in Glasgow last July.

It would be wrong to condemn all the security companies for the abuses and lack of control in certain sections of the industry. The more reputable firms, especially those belonging to the British Security Industry Association, follow a very tight code of practice when using guard dogs, and that code of practice tits very well into the terms of the Bill. I understand that Securicor bans the use of guard dogs without handlers. However, that code of practice is binding only on the members of the BSIA, of which there are only 60 in the whole country and only 10 of them employ guard dogs. There are companies which do not feel bound by the code nor do they take any notice of it, with tragic results such as that in Glasgow.

I realise that, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, has already said, the Government have set up an informal Working Party to examine the use of guard dogs by security organisations and to draw up a code of practice. This code of practice has now been in being for some three months. I feel that, because of the short time for which it has been in existence, it would be unfair to judge it at this stage. However, when all is said and done, that code is still only voluntary and, while I am certain that the reputable firms have been implementing it for some years, there is no legal requirement for all the firms to observe its provisions.

I also understand, again, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, has pointed out, that a Working Party of the Department of the Environment is examining the whole question of the law relating to all dogs. Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, replies, he can say how the provisions of the Bill fit in with the thinking and the plans for future legislation of that Working Party. I believe that statutory controls are needed and that in many ways they will be more effective than purely voluntary codes of practice. Furthermore, the BSIA and the more reputable firms are in favour of such control. One has only to go through Kennington or Brixton to see how the voluntary codes of practice are ignored. That is plain from the number of warning notices about loose guard dogs which appear on premises in those areas.

With regard to the details of the Bill, I have a few comments to make. It appears from the definition of "guard dog kennels "in Clause 6, and from the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3, that a person who owns a guard dog and uses it to guard his own commercial premises is not covered by the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3, and, consequently, does not need to licence the premises where the dog is kept. I appreciate the fact that such a person is subject to the provisions of Clause 1 but he is able to avoid the conditions which a local authority may lay down as to the control and keeping of the dog when granting a licence under Clause 3. Thus we could have a situation in which an individual—for example, the owner of a garage—used a guard dog which was totally untrained and possibly ill-treated, consequently posing an unnecessary risk to the general public. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, will comment on this point when he replies, and will say whether he intends to rectify what appears to be an obvious shortcoming in the Bill.

My Lords, the successful implementation of the Bill depends largely on the vigilance and the work of the police forces in this country. I should be interested to know what consultations the noble Lord has had with the Home Office and the police representatives, and what were the results of those consultations. Bearing in mind that the police are already so overworked and undermanned, it is important, if the Bill is to be properly implemented and enforced, that the police are both capable and willing to undertake the extra work. Clauses 3 and 6 read together show that district councils will grant licences and impose conditions on such licences. There is the danger that the conditions imposed will vary drastically from one area of a county to another, or from one part of a metropolitan district to another. This might create a rather unsatisfactory situation, as well as a certain amount of confusion for those implementing the Bill when it becomes an Act. The answer to this problem could lie in giving the power to grant licences to larger local authorities than district councils.

Under Clause 1(3) a person is required to put up warning notices only at the entrance or entrances to the premises. I should have thought that in circumstances where premises are surrounded by a perimeter wall or fence there would be strong arguments for requiring notices to be erected at regular intervals around the perimeter and not merely at the entrance to the property.

Clause 5 states that: Regulations may be made … enabling appeals to be made to a magistrates' court …". Does this mean that the right of appeal is subject to Ministerial regulations, or is it concerned merely with the manner in which the appeal is put forward? I think that the former would be totally objectionable, whereas we could certainly accept the latter. While we have some rather minor reservations about the Bill, we welcome it and hope that it will have a speedy passage through this House and will become law in the near future.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships briefly on this Bill which I think, without doubt, everybody welcomes. I shall not go into the events which have led up to the Bill, but there have been a number of happenings known to everybody, as well as a considerable number which are not known. I am not so happy about the Bill as it stands. and there must be some additions and Amendments to make it workable. The Bill appears to apply virtually to only commercial owners of guard dogs and I do not think that this is wide enough. I am not all that happy about the situation whereby Clause 1 can be brought into operation immediately, while the remainder of the Bill is to be brought in at a time suitable to the Minister, together with all the regulations which he is given powers to make.

I hope that we shall have assurances from the noble Lord who is to reply this afternoon for the Government that this part of the Bill will not just sink into the limbo of forgotten things but will be brought on as speedily as possible. I also ask the noble Lord to consider the position regarding the report of the Working Party of the Department of the Environment. The report may include recommendations about the Bill, but could involve delay for years. We want action far more quickly.

My Lords, may I come to the Bill and quickly go through it? So far as Clause 1 is concerned, some of the societies who are interested in the welfare of dogs are not very happy about the words "otherwise secured ". They have a feeling that this might mean that when the dog is left it will always be tied. The word "secured" always gives the impression that you are going to tie a dog. I shall suggest when we come to the Committee stage that we might find a better expression than "otherwise secured ". It might perhaps be that the dog should be suitably kennelled. "Secured" is not a good word; it always gives the impression of the tethering of an animal.

I should like, if possible, to add to Clause 2 some words about the vehicles which are employed to move these guard dogs, so that we can ensure that they will be clearly marked. It is possible that a handler who is moving dogs from kennels to work would temporarily have to leave his vehicle. Knowing what people are these days and with children it is possible they might attempt to enter the vehicle somehow and there might be the most disastrous results. I would suggest we might do something about adding conditions for vehicles. Under Clause 3 of the Bill regulations are to be made, subject to the prescribed conditions (if any) and to such other conditions as the local authority thinks fit. Regulations on various subjects will be made later on. Every other recent Act relating to dogs has had the conditions in the Act. I would refer your Lordships to the Boarding Kennels Act and the Breeding of Dogs Act. In both of those Acts the conditions under which the dogs are to be kept and looked after, and everything else, are clearly laid down. The local authority interprets those to fit each individual case. I have a feeling that the closer one can standardise all these Acts of Parliament dealing with dogs and the care of dogs the better; because, whatever ore says, a dog is still a dog wherever it is and the same care and husbandry is desirable all the time.

I was most impressed with the guard dog code which was issued by the Ministry. I thought it an excellent piece of work. Might I ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he could, so far as possible, insert this code into any regulations which may be issued? It covers most of the things which are required and is very helpful. Regarding paragraph (c) of Clause 5(1) perhaps some consideration may be given to the question: Is there to be an inspection fee and a licence fee, or simply an inspection fee in order to issue a licence? If a licence is refused, we assume that the person who applied for it will have to pay for the inspection. One then assumes that if he applies again he will pay for the second inspection. I feel one should not have just a licence fee, because if it is refused there is no means of making the man who has applied pay for the inspection.

I come now to the nub of this Bill. What is a guard dog? I understand that if you take a guard dog and premises together you are supposed to have a good interpretation, but I am afraid I do not see it. There are a number of circumstances in which dogs are obviously guard dogs, but they are not necessarily commercial guard dogs. For instance, there is a girls' school where the headmistress owns three dogs. In order to deter prowlers and marauders she permits the dogs to wander at night around the enclosed grounds of the school. Are these guard dogs? If so, this Bill must apply to them. If the owner of a public house lives on the premises, are his bars downstairs to be considered as part of the private dwelling or as part of a commercial business? I know of a pub where a nice dog is kept which, when "time" comes, ushers everybody out and will not let them back in again. He sleeps in the bar and literally guards the contents of the bar. Is that a guard dog, or not? Is it covered under this Bill? I do not believe it is.

Not long ago, just outside Birmingham, two gentlemen kept two dogs in a hut on some allotments. The dogs were used to guard tools and produce from the allotment. They were two extremely savage alsatians which did some damage to people. The owners said that the dogs were not kept there for guarding purposes but only for the night, because they were too big for the house. I should have thought they were guard dogs, but according to this Bill they are not covered. Those premises belong to the two gentlemen and they own the dogs and look after them. I know of cases where dogs sleep in cars which are parked in the street, in order to make sure nobody steals the cars or any parts of them. Are they guard dogs? I do not know. They do not seem to fit into the Bill.

I shall not detain your Lordships much longer. As to guard dogs in kennels, one firm I know—Securicor to be exact—kennel their dogs with another commercial body, the Canine Defence League. They are licensed for hoarding. Will they have to be licensed for guard dog kennels as well? A number of security firms have dogs which go home with their handlers at night and live at their handlers' homes. The dogs are not the property of the handlers but of the firms. Do the handlers' homes become guard dog kennels? I do not know. The police make a habit of letting their handlers take their dogs home.

I hope that I have not detained your Lordships too long, but we have had some horrid results from the Breeding of Dogs Act. We suddenly found that we ran into many Town and Country Planning Act provisions. I have a feeling that with this legislation, unless we are careful, we are going to find the same difficulty again. We come up against local authorities and we are going to run into a large number of Acts which really have no bearing on this matter at all. With these few words, my Lords—and I hope to speak later in the Committee stage—I should like to welcome this Bill, although I may have sounded rather disgruntled about it. Basically it is an excellent Bill and I sincerely hope that we shall have it nicely tidied up and made law as speedily as possible.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, having regard to the hour and the day of the week it will probably be in order for me to be brief. Therefore, I do not want to say anything at all with regard to the Bill which my noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker introduced with great simplicity but nevertheless with great clarity. May I deal with one or two points which have been raised by noble Lords opposite. The noble Earl, Lord Cowley, raised the whole question of the number of attacks on dogs to which I replied last year—


On people, my Lords.


On people. It would be interesting to have it the other way round! I replied to this point raised last year in a Question. There are no figures available generally. The figures given were especially ascertained for that occasion. Attacks by dogs on people are not in the normal way recorded. It may well be that they ought to be, but they are not. I cannot give any figures other than those he knows and which I gave some time last year. Reference has been made to the Working Party set up by the Department of the Environment. This Working Party are concerned with all dogs, not one group. They will concern themselves with dogs generally—the licensing of dogs, the keeping of dogs, fouling of the public footway, stray dogs and the behaviour of stray dogs. The inquiry is going to be an extensive one into dogs and not solely concerned with the matter we are discussing now. While there may be some connections, we shall have to await the outcome of the inquiry generally. This Bill, as the noble Earl will know, does not deal with domestic pets.

The noble Earl also raised the question of regulations and appeals. The regulations may be made—I refer to Clause 5(1)(a).: enabling a local authority to revoke a licence and, on the application of the licence holder, to vary the conditions … I should have thought that if regulations contain authority for a local authority to revoke a licence they must also state the rights a person has if he or she wishes to appeal. It suggests to me that this is the right place to put it. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, raised the question of the speed necessary to bring in the various clauses. Perhaps I may repeat what my noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker said, that it is intended to bring the first part in quickly but, as the noble Lord himself pointed out, it will impose on local authorities a good deal of responsibility. Consequently, this will have to be done strategically.

I have dealt with the Report of the Working Party, which the noble Lord also mentioned. We should like to look at a number of other points which he mentioned—vehicles used to move dogs, whether we can include the guard dog code in this Bill and whether it is necessary. The Government would like to look at this, and perhaps the noble Lord will not mind if I say that that we will do and we will give our views at a later date. The inspection fee will be prescribed in the regulations. With very great respect, it seems to me that that is where it ought to be. I cannot answer the question about dogs in public houses and the other situations. The acid test is whether the dog's function will be for guard duties. There are bound to be a large number of anomalies which can probably be settled only in the courts. I do not know whether one will be able to include in this Bill, as a result of amendments, a clause or clauses which will cover all of the situations which one is likely to find.

It was the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who raised the question of the transport of dogs in vehicles. This is a matter which could be dealt with more appropriately by regulations rather than in the Bill itself. If noble Lords will look at page 3, Clause 5(2)(b). says: … includes power to make such incidental or supplemental provision in the regulations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate ". I should have thought that the transport of dogs in vehicles could be brought into the regulations.

The only other matter that I have been specifically asked to deal with is the question of enforcement. It is expected that the enforcement of all aspects of the Bill will fall mainly to be dealt with by local authorities, not by the police. It was the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, who wondered whether it is right to put enforcement upon all local authorities and whether it should not be under the jurisdiction and control of a much larger authority. If one does that, one runs the risk of not Keeping as tight a rein and control on the situation as one would like to see. If it is kept to local authorities that have a defined area—


My Lords, I meant county councils rather than district councils because of the fact that the district councils cover a much smaller area. Therefore, they may have their own set of conditions which may be different from the conditions imposed by the district council next door.


My Lords, there is a possibility of that. This is found already when it comes to other matters which are under the control of the local authority. However, this is a very serious matter and there is a danger that much of what the Bill sets out to do could be defeated if it were given to the larger councils—which in some areas are very large—rather than to the district councils, which are usually very tiny bodies and can exercise a great deal of supervision and control over their areas.

I do not want to say any more than that, except that the Government welcome this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker pointed out, they have given a certain amount of help in its drafting and framing and it certainly has the Government's blessing.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and for the very important points that they have made. The noble Earl, Lord Cowley, asked about the use of a guard dog in a garage. One purpose of this Bill is to exclude its application to private houses and private dwellings because that would involve enormous apparatus and a great enforcement force, and so on, and therefore it would really depend whether the garage was part of a private dwelling. Obviously it would be different if it was a garage occupied by a number of buses or lorries, but if it was a garage attached to a house it would be excluded because the curtilage of a house is excluded. This is deliberately done. These provisions were in the original Bill, but they were taken out because they were clearly unenforceable and unreasonable and would apply to pets and all sorts of things.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, what I was getting at was not the garage where one keeps a car but the garage as a commercial premises, and it was really under Clause 6 where it says: other than a dog which is used as a guard dog only at premises belonging to its owner. This was what I was concerned about.


My Lords, if a garage is premises and not part of the dwellinghouse it comes under the mischief of the Bill. A guard dog means a dog used to protect premises. The word used is "or", not "and".


My Lords, it comes under Clause 1, but it does not seem to to come under Clauses 2 and 3 about the control of kennels.


My Lords, it is Clause 6 that defines what a guard dog is, and one definition is that it is a dog guarding premises. I thought the noble Earl was referring to a garage attached to a private house, but if it was premises it would clearly come under the mischief of the Bill.

Answering the noble Lord, Lord De Clifford, I think the Government must be able to decide when they bring in Parts of Bills because they have to take into consideration what is imposed on local authorities, and so forth; but I think we should be glad that they intend to bring in Clause 1 quickly. since this is the clause that will primarily protect the public.

Whether we can find another phrase for "otherwise secured ", I do not know. It is the alternative to chaining up the dog. There are two provisions: one must either chain up a dog when a man is not watching it, or secure it. I do not know that "secure" has a sinister meaning. even more sinister than "kept ", which I think the noble Lord suggested.


My Lords, I suggested "securely kennelled ".


My Lords, that would have to be a quite considerable amendment. There would need to be kennels at every premises on which there was a guard dog.


My Lords, when one uses the expression "securely kennelled" it is not necessary to have a special kennel; the meaning is to shut it up.


My Lords, yes, but that would have to be provided and it would be an extra cost that on all premises where there was a guard dog, even quite a small one, there would need to be something like a kennel that could be shut up, and failure to have a kennel would be an offence subject to a fine up to £400. That would be rather a fierce thing to do, but we could consider it.

The essence of this clause is that the dog should not be allowed to run loose when the handler is not actually watching it. The condition of vehicles is included in the code of conduct, and whether or not that could be put into the Bill I do not know. In some ways it would be quite difficult to define. As my noble friend suggested, it might be possible to deal with it by regulation.

The condition of guard dog kennels depends entirely on the local authority, which need not grant licences or can grant licences on conditions, and I think in many cases it would be very necessary to impose such conditions. The owner of the kennels would certainly have to pay every time there was an inspection, but he would not have to pay for a licence if he did not get a licence, which is what I understood the noble Lord to say.

A guard dog is not necessarily a commercial dog; it is a dog guarding premises. It does not have to be a commercial dog. It can be the owner. If a dog is used for watching premises, it comes under the Bill. I do not know the exact cases; the court would have to decide, but a headmistress who left a dog guarding the premises—because a school would be premises—would need to have a handler. With regard to the pub, it would depend on whether or not it was a dwelling house. It would depend on each case. If the pub were a dwelling house, the publican could keep a dog, but if it were not a dwelling house, he would not be able to. I am sure that allotments are premises. People would not be allowed to leave dogs running free, guarding allotments. Kennels would have to be licensed, whether or not the handlers were with the dog. I think that would make no difference.

My Lords, I hope that I have dealt with some of the more important points. I am grateful to noble Lords for all that they have said during the debate. My noble friend and I will look at the suggestions made to see whether we can meet certain points, either by saying there will be regulations, or by amending the Bill if necessary.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.