HL Deb 15 December 1976 vol 378 cc947-86

5.36 p.m.

Lord DE CLIFFORD rose to call attention to the Department of the Environment Report of the Working Party on Dogs; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we will now turn to another matter which affects many millions of the subjects of the Queen, the ownership of dogs. The Working Party on Dogs was set up because it became apparent that there were far too many Acts of Parliament—I think 27 in all—affecting dogs directly and at the same time there appeared to be a great increase in the population of dogs in this country. Also, the complaints about stray dogs and their behaviour came flooding in and were becoming a constant topic for the media. The Working Party on Dogs have produced an extremely readable and argumentative report. But I want to try to get down to some basic principles and ask the noble Baroness, who no doubt will reply to this debate in her most charming manner, a number of questions.

The first is that dog ownership, wherever it may be, has been plagued by Private Member's legislation. One of the things we should like to establish is whether we can now forget private legislation which comes through in all shapes and sizes (of which the most appalling example is the Breeding of Dogs Act), and whether we can now see at least that we may have all the Acts of Parliament and other things presented to us through a proper Government Bill. If we can establish that, we shall be a long way towards getting something which we can sensibly say will look after the future keeping and control of dogs.

When we talk about dogs, first of all we have to decide what we are discussing. There are many categories of dogs: the privately owned dog, which is probably the biggest category; dogs owned by people who breed them for the improvement of breeds and for showing purposes. We have dogs bred by what has come to be known as "puppy farms" but which I prefer to know as traders in dogs—who are an absolute menace—and we have dogs which are kept for sporting purposes, such as fox hunting, greyhound racing, shooting, and such like.

This report appears to aim mainly at the private owners of dogs, but in my view it fails to make clear what the authors are in fact trying to do. Let us start off with the fact that there appear to be, from the latest censuses that have been taken, about 4½ million owned dogs in this country and that there may be, in addition, a number of stray dogs. If we are to assume that there are 4½ million dogs and that in order to control the stray problem we must have dog wardens, then it is right to assume, as the Working Party have done, that the licence fee should be increased to pay for the wardens. Personally, I do not agree that the licence fee should pay for the whole of the dog warden scheme and I shall come to my reasons for that in a moment.

Where this Working Party on Dogs falls down in the first place is on the licensing aspect. At the present moment, there is not a dog of any kind in this country which is licensed: there is only the person who is licensed to keep a dog. One of the things which is not at all clear in this connection is what the Working Party really want. Do they want the dog owner to be licensed? Do they want the keeper of the dog to be licensed? Or do they want the dog to be licensed? This report has to be made clear in that basic respect.

At this precise moment, from what the Working Party has said, the acquisition of a dog is comparatively simple. It is perfectly possible, if you reduce it to an absurdity, for me, for example, to go out and buy a licence to keep a dog. With that licence, I could buy a dog in the morning and sell it in the evening. I could do that for 365 days in the year and, with one licence, I would then have owned 365 dogs. Nowhere in this report can I see anything that has cleared up that point. One part of the report says that the owner can apply for a licence 28 days before it becomes due, but as far as I can see it has not been made clear whether the owner is looked on as a keeper or whether he can transfer his licence to whomsoever he goes to.

At the moment we have a situation where, if somebody wishes to go on holiday and to leave his dog in a boarding kennel, that boarding kennel should take out a licence in order to take the dog. In other words, if the boarding kennel is licensed to have 200 dogs it should have 200 licences; but I have a feeling that at this moment that situation certainly does not obtain. Are we then to assume, if we can accept what the Working Party says, that from now on the licensee is not to be the keeper but the owner? That is the whole crux of this system of licensing. If we then say that it is to be the owner who is licensed, we must look carefully at the dog warden scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and his Committee have produced a most excellent report, which recommends a dog warden service, and I am extremely pleased to see that the Working Party accepted the principle of such a service. However, I personally am not in favour of the method by which they suggest it should be operated. If a dog warden scheme is to be set up, I feel it must be done nationally and not by district councils as an option. If we had an optional scheme, the effect would be that people in district councils which had no dog warden scheme operating would be collecting money for licences to pay for the dog warden scheme; so that in fact these people would be paying for nothing. If it were then said, "All right, if a dog warden scheme is not operating you may keep your dog for a lesser licence fee", the immediate rush across the border of such councils to get a licence would be quite unbelievable.

Then we come to the question of the cost of the dog warden scheme. The Working Party say that the licence—and I shall not enter into an argument now as to whether it should be £5 or more—must pay for the dog warden scheme: they have basically established that principle. I find that very difficult to accept. The dog warden is to take over all the duties of the police under the 1906 Act, and no doubt the police authorities would be extremely relieved if that were to happen. I am quite convinced that the police authorities do not like dealing with stray dogs or indeed having anything to do with dogs, because they are far too busy now on such other matters as dealing with motorists and various breaches of the law. They have money allocated to them in fact through what I believe is known as the "police precept" to deal with this stray problem, and I feel it would be most unjust to transfer their duties to a dog warden service. At least the money they now receive for those duties should not be set as a credit against it. Further-more, while the warden service is to deal very largely with the stray problem—and it urgently needs to be dealt with—it is also performing a public service. So I feel, in principle, that a certain amount of this burden should be borne by the normal ratepayer, although at the moment I would not be prepared to argue about the exact amount.

The question of strays is a rather touchy one. I do not think it is appreciated by many dog owners that, once their dog is outside the environment of the house or garden, it is instantly a stray. It is very difficult—and I have had a number of people complain about this—for people to realise that that is the situation. I have had cases brought to my attention where a perfectly well-trained and thoroughly pleasant dog has got out of a garden, has gone up the road, has got in with a collection of other dogs and has then been shot by a farmer for worrying sheep. In such cases, the owner cannot believe it. But it must be brought to everybody's attention that a dog which is not under control, and is not in the area of a house or garden, must be considered a stray, however much people do not like to think that it is. If you look at the position in that way, the number of strays is almost unlimited.

Furthermore, people must be taught that they cannot behave as they do, and I hope that it will be the dog wardens who do this, when they are instituted. In big towns and cities—and I know of an area around Birmingham where this happens frequently—people who go out to work put the dog out in the morning and he is sitting outside, waiting to be fed, when they come home in the evening. Such a dog is a stray, and that is one of the reasons why we have this appalling problem.

There is also the question of where these dogs come from. In the last 20 years, there has been a most tremendous upsurge in dog ownership, which has probably come about through increased standards of living. The winner at Cruft's is announced and, before you can turn around, thousands of people want to buy puppies of that type of dog, without knowing anything about what will happen afterwards. I believe that is what is known as impulse buying, keeping up with the Joneses or something like that. But before you know where you are, people have bought a puppy which was wanted when it was first acquired but is not wanted when it has grown up, and it is then put out on the streets or dumped on a motorway and has to be rescued.

The breeding of dogs is a very touchy subject. A reputable breeder tries to improve the breed, but then there is the breeder who tries to improve his pocket. When the Breeding of Dogs Act came in, one of the most astonishing things which occurred was the dispersal of bitches around the countryside by traders in dogs, in order to get below the number for which it was laid down they would require breeding licences. They put them out on breeding terms, they leased them and they did all kinds of other things. As a result, the intention behind the Act was destroyed. In fact it was destroyed before then, because only the honest person could be penalised, as unless you said that you were a breeder nobody could do anything about it. There were no rights of entry and there was nothing in that Act which made it effective. If the recommendations of the Working Party or some Government measure can make the Breeding of Dogs Act work effectively, then I hope that, irrespective of where a dog is bred, a trader will have to be licensed and subject to inspection. In the case of breeders, it seems that reputable people always get the wrong end of the stick, because they are honest and say what they are doing.

One feels that a number of people are being penalised by the Working Party. As your Lordships are probably aware, I am not a particularly enthusiastic follower of the hunts, but they exist and I consider that foxhounds are very much penalised. They are probably among the most well-controlled packs of dogs in the country, and I do not know why they should require a licence on a per head basis to pay for the dog warden service, when that service will probably ask for advice from them. Similarly, I cannot see why the greyhound racing people, who have their dogs under extreme control, should be penalised. I was wondering whether breeders and owners of dogs of that kind might be considered for some form of block licence.

The Working Party on Dogs made a great mistake when they brushed aside every form of allowance in regard to licensing, except for guide dogs for the blind. I believe that they are penalising a great many people who should not be penalised. I was amazed the other day, when I attended a BSAVA meeting, to hear somebody who has a great connection with pensioners say that he did not wish pensioners to be considered. He thought that they were spending too much money on looking after their dogs. But I cannot agree with this. I feel that pensioners are among the people who should be considered.

I have spoken for too long. There are a number of noble Lords who, no doubt, will want to take part in the debate. However, may I ask the noble Baroness to give us an assurance or forecast, first about whether we have seen the last of the Private Member's Bills dealing with a subject of this magnitude, and, secondly, whether the Government intend to introduce a Bill to implement this report. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to declare that I know of no Liberal policy on the dog world, despite Mr. Clement Freud and his activities in that direction. I am not an indiscriminate dog lover. I like dogs in about the same proportion as, or rather less than, I like people. Some dogs are all right; others are a bore; and a great many are a nuisance.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would agree with Frederick the Great who, I think, said: The more I see of men the more I like dogs"? Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE, My Lords, while I hesitate to disagree with Frederick the Great, I am not sure about that. The more I see of dogs the more I like men, in many cases. Certainly we have far too many dogs in this country. The best estimate I can find, through a recent extensive reading of the literature, is that there are about 6 million dogs in this country. I understand that we issue about 3 million dog licences. We must do something to reduce the number of dogs in this country. I like some dogs. I have a dog. I find it expensive to keep and, quite often, disobedient, but I try to keep it under control, or at least to let it run about in an area which belongs to me and not to somebody else. Furthermore, these 6 million dogs are increasing at the rate of 250,000 a year. The increase in the dog population is fully as serious as the increase in the human population of the world, and we must do something about it.

A large number of the people who keep dogs have no real idea about how to keep them or what to do with them. In fact, they should not keep dogs at all. Vets will tell you that in the holiday season they frequently receive orders to put down dogs so that the owners can go on holiday, and that after Christmas, when the children are fed up with the dogs that they have been given for Christmas, they have another period of activity killing the dogs which hae been given as presents.

There is a great feeling about, I understand, that the dog is the friend of man. I do not know about that, but man is certainly the friend of the dog because no other species would tolerate the harm that too many dogs do. I understand, from another statistic that I found during my extensive reading on the subject, that every day 66 tons of dog excrement is rained down on the property of the citizens of London. The situation is totally out of hand, in that I understand there is a disease—again I quote from my extensive reading on the subject—called toxascaris which was referred to on a Thames Television programme. A Dr. Dent, whom one assumes is an expert on the subject, said that in one way or another 10 per cent. of children suffer from the effects of this parasite which is found on dogs and which is distributed through children playing with dogs.

There is also the problem of sheep worrying. The report is very explicit and says that 8,000 sheep are killed or badly maimed every year by stray dogs attacking sheep. This is a very high figure, but it would be very much higher if it were not for the fact that in the vicinity of towns farmers have stopped keeping sheep altogether. This affects very badly the production of muttn in this country; many hundreds of thousands of acres around our towns must be sterilised because farmers cannot keep sheep there.

The practical reasons for keeping dogs are well known. In ancient times they had watchdogs, working dogs, dogs for defence and dogs for hunting. It is difficult to know why so many people keep dogs now, and we encourage them to do so. I think that the recommendation of the Working Party that there should be a £5 dog licence is setting too low a figure. Seven and sixpence in 1878 would be worth about a fiver now, but people are very much richer. I am quite serious when I say that the dog licence should be at least £10. In that way one would deter many people from keeping dogs, and keeping them very badly, which are then a nuisance to the whole community.

We really are daft. We have just heard a Statement from the Chancellor detailing the economies we have to make, yet in this country we are spending £400 million on dog food. It is a major industry. I can quote the authority for my statement; I have it here if the noble Baroness wants it. We are using up 600,000 tons of food as pet food. We are raping the seas around our coasts—we shall be talking about fishing limits tomorrow—in order to make pet food which should be made instead into food for human consumption.

Also we have the rabies problem approaching our shores. This is a very serious problem. I back the recommendation of the Working Party that the responsibility for dealing with the problem should be put firmly on local authorities, which should be staffed by self-financing people. If we get rabies in this country it will need to be very tightly controlled. This fact was drawn to my attention by my noble friend Lord Avebury who has been in communication with authorities in this country on the same point.

For all these reasons, I think that we must back the report, and I hope that we shall have early legislation to implement it. I hope also that serious thought will be given to making the dog licence fee £10 instead of £5. I believe that there ought to be more exceptions. I know perfectly well what happened in the Working Party: that they started on the exceptions but eventually said, "No, for heaven's sake! Do not let us go into it. It is much simpler to except guide dogs for the blind and nothing else". I do not think that this is right. Among the people who look after their dogs properly are the pensioners. I know of many pensioners whose greatest solace is their dog and they look after it properly. If they wish to spend money on food for their dogs, that is their concern and we should not interfere with it. For this and other reasons, I believe that more exceptions should be made, even though it means more work and a certain complexity.

I conclude by saying that the report appears to me to be good, that action is necessary and that that action should be swift in order to reduce the number of dogs and increase the number of responsible owners.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, at present I am not a dog owner, nor have I been one for many years, but two and a half years ago I was invited to become the chairman of a committee of voluntary organisations with an interest in dog welfare who wished to consider the many aspects of dogs in society. That is how I became the chairman of a Committee which was largely instrumental in persuading the Government to appoint the Working Party and had considerable influence upon the recommendations of that Working Party. It was a Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society and in its membership were all the principal organisations concerned with dogs and dog welfare, including the Kennel Club, the National Canine Defence League and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I saw the work of that Committee through and myself gave evidence to the Working Party. The Report to which the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, referred and also the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, was published on 5th August. In only one material respect do the recommendations of the Working Party differ from the proposals made by the Joint Advisory Committee of which I was chairman.

I should like to pay a tribute to the unusual circumstance in which voluntary bodies came together in a spirit of co-operation and good will to give, collectively and unanimously, evidence to a Government committee. How I wish that that favourable degree of co-operation had been present among the voluntary bodies dealing with human beings when I was the Minister in charge of the social services. Could one bring them together then? Could one get Christian charity among charitable bodies dealing with various aspects of human welfare? I confess that I failed, too, but in the Committee we were successful.

Naturally when discussing any matter relating to dogs almost the first question that is raised is this: what about the licence fee? People go to the money straight away. But there are other aspects of this problem as well as that of the licence fee itself. The first thing we must understand is that although probably when one says "I am the chairman of a committee on dogs" a kind of indulgent smile comes over people's faces as though it were a relatively unimportant subject, the fact is that "dogs is news" and "dogs is politics". One only has to read the national press this morning to see the large display that is given to the possible fate of beagle dogs in a breeding establishment in Wales which is closing down and where many hundreds of dogs are threatened with destruction. Immediately emotions are involved, voluntary bodies get active and people are anxious to spare animals from this fate.

In our own Joint Advisory Committee one thing of which we were very conscious was the element of companionship of dogs to many human beings, especially the old who live lonely lives and who find enormous comfort and interest in having a dog in the home. Indeed, many of the old people talk to their dogs probably more than they talk to other people because they are in daily companionship with their dogs. I do not like the term, "pet" in society: the dog is more than a pet and, in many cases, it is an indispensable part of the home. Children like dogs and in my view no family of children is complete without an animal at some time, where a relationship can be established between young people and the animal world. So we are dealing with a very large and serious subject and there is not the slightest doubt that the licence fee in this connection will be of great political importance.

When I was in the Government in 1965–66 we considered raising the dog licence fee along with many other licence fees which we were reviewing at that time. But we were immediately confronted with the possibility that if the licence fee were raised sharply it might result in the abandonment of large numbers of dogs or, where not abandoned, the deliberate decision by a lot of people that they could not afford to keep the dogs any longer and they would call upon the voluntary bodies to destroy them. I was not at all surprised that at that time the RSPCA said, "Be careful not to impose upon us and other voluntary bodies the burden of destruction which it would be emotionally and financially difficult for us to accept". We must bear that in mind in connection with a proposition that £5 is not enough and it ought to be £10.

If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made a strangely illiberal speech. Should I be doing him an injustice if I said that it was a typical farmer's speech on the subject of dogs? His love of animals and his respect for them may spread over a wider perspective of the animal kingdom, but he is perhaps not the slave of his dog to the extent that many individuals are who have not the same broad interests of agriculture and animal husbandry that farmers enjoy.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I should like to reassure him that, as a neighbour of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I can say that he is devoted to a black Labrador of very uncertain age.


My Lords, I am comforted to hear that because I thought in his remarks he was almost disowning his affection for his dog.


My Lords, it is very kind of the noble Lord to give way. He has raised a very serious point about the farmer's attitude to animals. One of the things that made me make my rather brutal speech, which I thought ought to be made because, with respect, most people are rather mealy-mouthed about the dog and its relationship with humans, was that in the farming world we know how to treat animals well and we realise that if we do not treat them well or do not keep them in someone will destroy them or they will have to be destroyed. It is that element of responsibility which is so missing in the dog-owning world in general, and that is why I suggest that the licence fee—with many exceptions—should be high enough to make people really want to look after their dogs.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention. I entirely endorse his desire for more responsible dog ownership. That is what we want to get, and undoubtedly to raise the licence fee to a reasonable level would help to ensure it. But I am absolutely against using the dog licence fee as a means of raising revenue. It is right that dog owners should make a proper contribution to whatever services may be introduced for the welfare of dogs as well as for the interests of the public at large.

This brings me to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who said that he could not understand why the Working Party had recommended that the licence fee should bear the whole cost of the proposed dog warden service. I believe there is no doubt that a dog warden service would be a desirable thing to introduce, and transfer to it powers that are now in the hands of the police. I need not go over the ground of the scope and responsibilities of a dog warden service. Where that has been tried it has been proved largely successful. It helps to promote responsible dog ownership, and I think it would be of great assistance in enforcing the licensing provisions. At present, there is widespread evasion of the dog licence fee. It is too small for some people to bother with, and there are no satisfactory means of enforcement.

Under the proposals of the Working Party, which were the proposals of my Committee, the dog itself should carry evidence of the payment of the licence fee. The licence fee should be big enough to make a substantial contribution to the dog warden service which we would hope would be made obligatory, not optional, on local authorities. It should be a national service operated by local authorities, and paid for very largely by the dog licence fee.

I do not think it is suitable that the dog licence fee should bear the cost of the whole of the dog warden service, because under the proposals of the Working Party, a good deal of the expense incurred now by, for example, the police, is on the Police Vote, and under the Working Party proposals would be transferred to the expenses of the dog warden service. I do not think that that transfer is justified. Moreover, in some respects the dog warden service would be a service to the community. After all, the community is interested in all that goes on within it. Motor cars, bicycles, pedestrians, all sorts of other users of the environment contribute something to the general wellbeing and welfare and cleanliness of the community. There is a community element in this, too.

My Lords, I would say that probably a licence fee of no more than half that proposed by the Working Party would be adequate to pay for a dog warden service if some parts of the cost now borne by the police were borne by the local authority. But I do not think the amount of licence fee should be regarded as the breaking point of the proposals of the Working Party. I warn your Lordships' House not to propose a dog licence fee which would thrust a terrible burden of destruction upon local authorities and voluntary bodies by those who felt unable to continue to keep a dog.

May I offer this little caution in passing., Many workers in voluntary bodies like the RSPCA go into the work because of their love of animals. They do not like to destroy animals. At times, a great strain is put on the inspectorate and other officials of voluntary bodies who are thought by many sections of the public to be some kind of licensed executioner of dogs. They are not that. They are people who want to promote the welfare of dogs. not to destroy them. We should do nothing which would pile up the toll of destruction of dogs for months after the introduction of what might be regarded as an unacceptable or punitive level of fee.

My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a moment longer, but may I urge the Government to look at the proposals of the Working Party in relation to the disciplines which I believe are necessary if the country is to be properly prepared for the possible entry of rabies. There is a great danger that, if rabies comes to this country, panic may break out among many animal owners and others. As a matter of fact, the dog is only moderately susceptible to rabies. Experience in other countries has shown that foxes are much more susceptible than dogs where rabies is endemic. Nevertheless, all forms of animal life will be in danger, I believe, if an outbreak of rabies occurs in this country. Look at the insane way in which all the guns in an area were let loose over common ground—I think it was in Surrey—when there was a suspected outbreak of rabies some years ago. Almost everybody with a gun was allowed to go out and to shoot every living thing. That is not the way to meet an outbreak of rabies. We must be more disciplined; we must be more sensible.

There must be a reduction in the number of stray dogs. There must be a consciousness on the part of owners that their dog must not be allowed to stray; they must keep it under control. The dogs must be properly identified. They should have a licence identity attached to them. All these things are part of the new consciousness, and of the promotion of responsibility for proper dog ownership.

My Lords, I come now to the question of dog food, and of dogs consuming resources. The motor car consumes resources. The motor car is swallowing thousands and thousands of tons of oil every year, purely for pleasure. We are all indulging ourselves in a period of higher living standards. Talk about dogs consuming food! Human beings are consuming far too much food at present. Let us get the whole thing in perspective. After all, you have only to go into any town or city at present and you will see children consuming luxury goods on a considerable scale. Are we to tell people how they should spend their disposable income? Some are getting a great deal more pleasure from their motor car than they derive from a bicycle or a television set. Many old people find the company of their dog almost indispensable in their intolerably lonely life. There are 9 million pensioners in Britain at the moment, and I imagine a large proportion of them are dog owners.

What exceptions should we allow? My Committee suggested to the Working Party that farmers should no longer receive exemption on their sheep dogs. We were not in favour of any exceptions at all, except in the case of the blind. I do not think it is desirable to make a great many exceptions with a fee of this kind. It introduces administrative difficulties and problems of discrimination, of knowing where to stop. If the licence fee is a reasonable amount, an amount which is within the pocket of a large proportion of the population, and is bearing a reasonable part of the cost of the dog warden service, then we have got it right.

On this difficult day, when we have heard of the reductions in public expenditure and local authorities coming under the squeeze, I would say to the Government that it is very desirable to prepare the country, not only on this front but elsewhere, to deal with the possibility of the entry of rabies. We hope we shall not see rabies in this country, but there would be a greater discipline on the dog population, which would help to keep down the number of strays, would help to reduce the amount of sheep worrying and would help to reduce the number of road accidents caused by dogs running about out of control. There is enormous social advantage, as well as safeguards for the health of the country, in implementing the recommendations of the Working Party. I personally am very glad to have had some contribution to make to a thoroughly sensible report based on the recommendations of a collection of animal organisations, which brought common sense as well as sentiment and real interest in animals to bear on this difficult task.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, we must be grateful to my noble friend Lord de Clifford for having put down this Motion. The Report of the Working Party on Dogs, which owes so much to the Report last year of Lord Houghton's Advisory Committee, is of great interest and importance, and I shall look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness opposite may tell us of the Government's intentions, if any, as regards its recommendations. Meanwhile, it is good to have the opportunity of discussing the Report.

I take a rather kindlier view of dogs in general than does Lord Mackie of Benshie. I have a particular interest in this matter, though not a financial one. I am chairman of that very remarkable institution, the Dogs Home, Battersea, a home for lost dogs set up by Mrs. Tealby in Holloway in 1860 and removed to Battersea more than a century ago; her neighbours, not unnaturally, complained of the noise, and at Battersea there was a site where the neighbours were the railway and railway sidings, and there the Dogs Home still is. We have at Battersea dogs of all shapes and sizes, in every condition from healthy to terribly diseased, 18,000 dogs a year—the number is surprisingly constant from year to year—and about 500 at any one time.

We had last year dogs of 74 different breeds, apart from that breed not recognised by the Kennel Club but commonly known as "Heinz", because it incorporates some or all of 57 varieties. It is the mongrel that outnumbers all the rest put together. Most of them we collect from 182 police stations in the Greater London area, and we carry out, under contract, the statutory duty of the police to look after stray dogs for a week to enable their owners to claim them. About 45,000 members of the public visit the Home each year in search of their own lost dog or a dog to buy, or just to see the work that the Home is doing. We keep the dogs in the best and most modern kennels in the country. We even had recently a delegation from Japan to see how we do it. More than 3,000 dogs are claimed every year by their owners, for more than 6,000 we find new homes, and the rest, almost all of which are irrecoverably diseased, have to be destroyed. In principle, we never, and in practice we very seldom, have to put down a healthy dog. We have a devoted staff of keepers and van drivers and others to the number of about 40, and they are very proud of the work that the Home does. So at Battersea we know something about stray dogs, and indeed we gave evidence to the Departmental Working Party.

In general, I welcome the Working Party's Report very warmly, though I have reservations on one or two specific matters to which I will come in a moment. I hope that the Government will, after a period of widespread discussion, take steps to implement some of its recommendations. I hope particularly they will increase the charge for a dog licence to a figure that makes anyone who acquires a dog feel that he has something that is worth looking after, not to be lightly thrown on the streets, as so many unfortunate dogs are today, and to a figure also that makes the enforcement of the licensing system worth while, which it is certainly not at present. I should like to see the cost of a first licence put up to £5—Lord Houghton's Committee suggested £3, but I do not think that in these days £5 would be too high—and that a licence should be valid, as Lord Houghton's Committee proposed, for three years. It would be a good thing if it were found practicable—and I see no reason why it should not be—that a first licence should carry a voucher for free injections against distemper by an approved veterinary surgeon.

The present law as to licensing, and as to a dog having, when it is in a public place, a collar with its owner's name and address attached to it, is widely disregarded; and if the excellent proposal for coloured tags is adopted, that system with the increased cost of a licence, would be a very great help in administering the law and in producing also—very important—a very considerable fall in the number of strays. That is all to the good. But I have reservations on two points in particular. One is on the recommendation that the period for which a dog is kept, to enable its owner to claim it, should be reduced from seven days to five. There is an important practical reason for the period of seven days, one week, and that is that for many people, if they have lost their dog, the weekend is in practice really the only time that they can go searching for it. I think it would be a great mistake to reduce this period to anything less than a week for that reason.

The other matter on which I have reservations is a major matter of policy: the proposal for a transfer of responsibility for stray dogs, from the police to the local authorities. It is, of course, perfectly true that the police have many other and many more important duties, and would perhaps not be sorry to give up this one. I do not know whether it may be different in the rural areas, but certainly in London the existing system operates smoothly and efficiently. Everyone knows that the police look after stray dogs and knows where to take, or inquire after, a lost dog. In practice, our contract at Battersea with the Metropolitan Police relieves the police of having to keep dogs at the police stations for more than a few hours; they do not have to set up extensive kennels or anything of that kind. They are most co-operative; we have two nominees of the Metropolitan Police sitting as members of our committee, and most helpful they are. So I should deplore any change in this arrangement, with a multiplicity of local authority dog wardens all over the place, and dog owners feeling that they are under surveillance as potential criminals.

That kind of attitude might quite easily develop. The concept of the dog warden as the dog owner's guide, adviser and friend is very attractive; but in practice he might more probably become and be seen by the public as just another petty official appointed, like the traffic warden, to catch people out. One can see the picture: "Did your dog make this mess on the pavement?" "No". "Well, it is quite fresh, and if it was not your dog what done it what dog was it?" "I have no idea. It was not mine". "Well, I do not see any other dog. It is quite fresh. I shall have to book you". That is the sort of thing one can imagine.

Nor do I believe that in general the local authorities—of which I have had some experience, having been for a decade a member of the London County Council, and also for some years of my local borough council—would be so efficient as the police, and I am perfectly certain that they would not be so economical. Some, no doubt, would be excellent but many would not be. So I hope profoundly that, in London anyway, the responsibility will remain with the police. I am reinforced in that view by my friends in the police force, who tell me that even if the formal responsibility is transferred in practice the police will still have to do nearly all the work. I am sure that is true. I see my time is almost up. There are other more detailed points that I have no time to develop, but, with the important reservations I have stated, I warmly welcome this Report and its recommendations.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for raising this question. I might never have read the report had it not been for this debate. I am impressed by the report. It has obviously been well thought out, and I did not realise how much it owed to the voluntary societies and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I welcomed particularly the dog warden concept. This is absolutely essential. I am afraid I must differ from the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, about the local authorities. The problem is really getting beyond the control of the police. I am quite convinced, with the local authorities, that the work of the dog wardens must come under the supervision of the veterinary profession. You must have the veterinary surgeon supervising the work of the dog wardens and also their training. Without veterinary control, many of the apprehensions of the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, would be realised.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, who said that all local authorities must come under the warden scheme. It would be fatal if they did not. In fact one almost wondered how anyone could think that it could be other than a national scheme. The wardens collect the strays; dogs are killed in accidents and dogs die of old age. Some thought might have been given in this report to the disposal of the carcases. Virtually no attention is paid to what is really an important point. At the present moment, when the veterinary surgeon puts down a dog, maybe as a result of an accident or old age, he is invariably expected to dispose of the carcase. In most cases the owner does not want to have anything more to do with it. Although there is no legal obligation on him to do so, he assumes an ethical responsibility to ensure that his clients' animals are disposed of in as satisfactory a way as possible.

The Control of Pollution Act was enacted in 1974 and the Department of the Environment at that time advised the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons that it was proposed to deal with small animal carcases by means of regulations to be made under Section 30(4). It is clear that the implementation of that Act has been delayed. Some local authorities have realised their responsibilities in this respect and have made arrangements, but many others have not done so, despite representations that have been made by the veterinary profession, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals. I believe that any legislation that is contemplated should place this responsibility also upon the local authorities. It would not be an expensive one, but it is a responsibility which should exist.

Then there is the question of dog licences. I have a vivid recollection of a debate which took place in your Lordships' House some 10 years or so ago and the late Lord Iddesleigh, sitting on the Cross-Benches, made an impassioned and well reasoned speech for the raising of the dog licence to £5. If he had had his way, the problem of the stray dog would be much less at the present time. I would mention that in Lord Iddeslcigh's memory, because he was a great dog lover. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has suggested a fee of £10 for the dog licence. It might eventually be necessary to raise it to that figure, but in the meantime I would accept what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, says; that is, that one should do it by degrees. I think a first step to £5 would be quite reasonable, and I should certainly fall in behind those who advocate a £5 licence.

I do not agree that only the blind dog should be exempted. I wish to make a special plea for the sheep dog and the cattle dog, and for a reason which the Working Party, composed, I suspect, largely of urbanites, would hardly appreciate, but which I think the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, would appreciate. It takes a lot of skill to breed a sheep dog. The sheep dog is bred almost invariably by small people. It is not bred on a large scale, it is bred by small people, usually just the shepherds and the cattle men. These men are breeding for intelligence in an animal. It is one of the most fascinating of all the breeding experiments going on in the world, and any of your Lordships who have been reading the recent correspondence in The Times will see how relevant is that correspondence.

No one can spot the intelligence of a puppy any more than one can spot the intelligence potentiality of one's own baby or anyone else's baby. In order to select the intelligent animals—those you are going to use yourself, those you are going to breed from in future—you must keep them up to at least a year old, to a period when you have been able to decide whether or not they will react to training. Therefore, to tax a shepherd or a cattleman who is raising puppies, some of which would not turn out to he useful dogs—probably he would want to keep only one in four or one in six for future purposes—would be very unjust.

While I disagree with Lord Houghton about that, I have something to say which will give him greater cause for discontent. In my view, dogs for laboratory purposes should also be exempt. The cost of laboratory animals is very considerable and the results of vivisection experiments, of which Lord Houghton so stoutly disapproves, are of tremendous value to the human race. In my view, nothing should be done to add to the costs of medical research institutions and universities in this respect, and therefore I appeal for laboratory dogs to be exempted from the licence fee.

I welcome the suggestion that dealers should purchase puppies only from persons licensed under the Dogs Act and I agree with Lord de Clifford that the whole business of dogs needs to be consolidated into one new piece of legislation, and I hope this will he done before long. Education of the population about dogs must be continuing and pressure is essential on potential dog-owners as well as on uncaring owners because they must be made to understand what their duties are, and the veterinary profession can make a great contribution in this respect. As I say, I welcome the report and hope it will not be long before the noble Baroness is able to introduce a Bill in this House to put it into effect.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate but as an inveterate dog-lover with a lifelong experience of dogs—hounds and the like, of various breeds and in various countries—I feel I have a contribution to make. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for having initiated the debate, but the temptation to me to speak came from the remarks of my noble friend Lord Balerno who, like myself, was born in the neighbourhood of "Greyfriars' Bobby", whose story is so well known. I do not know how many of your Lord-ships saw the television programmes "One man and his dog", which showed what Lord Balerno was describing, the skills produced by sheepdog operators. These dogs make an important contribution to our economy, and I would only add that there are various other working dogs which are similarly situated.

Lord Balerno referred to the use of dogs and animals in pharmaceutical and medical experiments. Having been concerned with the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years in an undertaking which had its own research laboratories and kennels, I have a few comments to make on the subject. Many of the experiments to which reference is made in the Press are in fact not research experiments but relate to the checking of batches of drugs produced. These experiments are not painful and when the reports refer to them being carried out without anaesthetics, the animals do not need to be anaesthetised. Generally, all that is required is a prick in the ear for a drop of blood or a diet that is prescribed.

When I was concerned with this under-taking we absolutely insisted that any animal in our laboratories should not have been a pet, which, as a devoted dog-lover, brings me to my next point. It is that animals' minds are based on memory. It is horrible to me to think that any dog of mine which has been a friend of myself and my family for years should be submitted to any sort of pain or discomfort. However, I do not feel the same in terms of the need to which Lord Balerno referred; the absolute necessity of using an animal to test and check various medicaments. I put it that way because I hope something can be done about the penalties for stealing dogs, a merciless thing to do. I wonder whether anything can be done to ensure that pets are not stolen, by ensuring a severe penalty for stealing pets.

There are working dogs other than those to which reference has been made, particularly gun dogs; but I do not think we need worry about them unduly because they are usually bred in a quite different way from sheep dogs. They are not necessarily trained by the small skilled operator to whom my noble friend referred, but often by the trainer or breeder, and therefore I do not think any exemption need extend beyond the few that have been mentioned. On the other hand, what about guard dogs which are properly trained in their conduct?

Lord Houghton pointed out the need to get the right level of licence fee, the fact that if it is too high we may find large numbers of dogs being destroyed and many pensioners and old folk not being able to keep their dogs. If the fee is too high there could be other complications, too. We must remember that for pensioners, the old and especially women, dogs are not only companions but, if they are of the size of, say, a terrier or larger, can provide valuable protection and a real sense of security.

On the question of rabies I must choose my words carefully. It has been suggested that panic might ensue if it broke out. I choose my words carefully because, like other noble Lords, I have lived in countries where rabies is endemic. Though it is a terrible and awful disease and the risks to agriculture and the like must be appreciated, the subject must be faced with a steely glance rather than with the belief that a measure of panic would ensue. I say that because nowadays the protection and prevention methods are very reliable, and I have been glad to read that a further advance in this respect has been made.

Lord Balerno made a very important point about the disposal of carcases. Except for my last dog, which died in my arms at a good age, I have always buried my pets with my own hands. On the last occasion, however, I had an absolute warranty from my veterinary officer that the dog's remains would be cremated, which was a great comfort to me. I am looking forward to hearing the other contributions on this matter and to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will say. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for introducing this matter and I am grateful for the interesting points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe. I support him very strongly in what he said about having a seven rather than a live-day limit

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, first, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord de Clifford on raising the subject of dogs in your Lordships' House this after-noon. There is no doubt that in this country, dogs, and, indeed, all pets are an eternal and endless source of conversation and argument. I say that as one who is an inveterate dog lover. I think I had my first dog at the age of seven—it was a very large dachshund—and I have kept dogs ever since. Indeed, there is one paragraph in this report with which I am in wholehearted disagreement. It is that which relates to the age at which a person can apply for a licence for a dog. I believe that it is paragraph 11.5. If one is, for instance, allowed to go out with a shot gun to shoot pigeons at the age of 14, should one not also have a dog to pick them up?

I digress. I hope that my own personal attitude is not one of sickly sentimentality so far as dogs are concerned, although I think that I perhaps hold them in a little higher regard than does the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. As has already been said, the Working. Party brought its mind and considerable talents to the problem of dogs. If I say that the problem is basically an urban problem, that the attitude of the Working Party was basically urban and that the remedies it proposed were basically urban, that is not to be taken as being meant offensively or, even, tendentiously. It is a fact that most of the dogs—like most of the people—in these overcrowded islands of ours are confined in the cities or, at any rate, in the conurbations, and it is natural that the problems that arise should be dealt with on that basis.

I was very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, when he emphasised the great source of consolation that people find when they own dogs. I say that with due deference to cat lovers, goldfish fanciers and budgerigar keepers. There is nothing like a dog. As has already been said, many people can live with a dog very much better than with humans. It may be their fault. It may be that they cannot co-operate and communicate with humans so well. It may be that their personal circumstances prevent them from having a family or being with other people. Many people, including the old, the shy and the lonely, derive great satisfaction from the ownership of a dog and, dare one say it?, there is always the security point. Many old ladies who own dogs—and they need not be very big dogs—derive a sense of security from a creature that can act as a watchdog however insignificant it is in size.

Dogs are, after all, a very useful adjunct to man's activities. I detected a rather world-weary note in the whole approach of the Working Party. One felt that its members in a way regarded dogs as some sort of mobile defecating mechanism that would probably get into the wrong place at the wrong time. That is not something that I condone, but it is not something either that will help us to overcome the problem. Problems there certainly are. We talk of man's in-humanity to man, but to my mind that is nothing to man's inhumanity to defence-less creatures. A friend of mine who the other day came down from Scotland via the motorway and pulled into a service station to fill up with petrol, saw a nice little dog sitting on the forecourt. At every car that came into that filling station it bounded forward and looked up and then went back again and sat just by the pumps. My friend was in-formed by the person who was serving the petrol that that dog had been there for five days. It had been shot out of a car by its owners and ever since it had remained in its lonely and isolated position, hoping that its owners would come back. It was fed and sustained by people who were very moved when they saw its predicament.

In my own experience, I have near my home a site where holiday caravans go in the summer. At weekends, I quite frequently go down and exchange a few words with the warden. On one Saturday last summer no fewer than three dogs were abandoned by their owners who, presumably, had been having some sort of holiday at the camp site and, when the time came for them to move on, just booted their dogs out for those who found them to make what they could of.

So there are too many dogs. That is one of the great problems that we have to face. Secondly, we have to face the fact and confess it: dogs have habits that are inconvenient, annoying, disgusting and sometimes, no doubt, downright unhealthy. I am sorry to observe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is again not with us. What is to be done? There will have to be introduced into our law provisions that will help to control the number of dogs and which will, to some extent, curb their activities. By that, I mean the freedom of dogs to roam where they will and also the freedom of people. That freedom will have to be curtailed in the general interests of all. However, whatever provisions are made must be sensible and acceptable. They must be acceptable to the general populace, and they will not be acceptable if they merely signal the introduction of what I might call a new bureaucratic dimension which will simply cause public irritation and wholesale evasion of any law that is introduced

Some of your Lordships who have young children may have seen them watching cartoons on the television. A not infrequent figure is the American dog warden, a foolish creature who wanders about with an oversized butterfly net, taking dogs into custody and bearing them away in a van. We all know where everybody's sympathies lie. They do not lie with the dog warden. If we are to have dog wardens, we must see to it that the dog warden is a figure of respect, if not affection, and not a figure of fun.

I have two criticisms of the approach of the Working Party in this matter. I think that when it was considering these problems there was, first, a failure to distinguish between what I call useful dogs and dogs which, however agreeable they are, have no more use than as a pet—and I realise the force of what Lord Houghton said when I use that word. Secondly, I think that some criticism lies in the fact that the Working Party failed to distinguish between urban and country dogs. I shall come back to that. To take the question of numbers of dogs first, various estimates have been placed upon the numbers of dogs now among us. They range from 4 million upwards. I suggest that it is equally impossible to know how many of those millions of dogs are the result of what I might call "planned parenthood", and how many are accidents.

I believe very strongly that if the number of dogs decreases many of the other difficulties will also fall away, or at least will become manageable. One then asks oneself: How is one to control and, hopefully, to diminish the number of dogs which are about? I see no other way than a two-fold approach, the first part of which is fiscal. I regret it, but I fear that the only way of making people take more care in this matter is to raise the licence fee to such a level that people will not obtain dogs merely for the summer or, even worse, for Christmas or for holidays, but will acquire them only if they really want to look after them and to derive what pleasure they can from their company.

Secondly, as I have said, I think there will have to be some control over breeding. You cannot force everybody who has a bitch to register, nor can you, bearing in mind that they come on heat twice a year, force everybody to keep the dog under such control that the possibility will not exist that they have unwanted litters. But if the dog licence fee were made sufficiently high people would then take more care. I should not want to put forward a figure. I think that the figure of £5 is probably right, although I should not be averse to having the fee higher than that in circumstances to which I shall come.

In considering the possibility of having higher fees let us compare this with, say, a television licence. People may be averse to and unwilling to pay £18 for a television licence, but generally speaking it is regarded as reasonable value for money, and I would suggest that people who really want to have dogs should not be averse to paying perhaps half of that amount to own a dog. But I suggest that if the Government are considering legislation in this field in the future, considerable thought should be given—and a good deal more thought than the Working Party gave—to the remission of fees in certain cases. I would remit the licence fee for the old, because as I have tried to say they derive particular pleasure from the company of dogs. I would certainly remit the fee for the blind.

I would also remit the licence fee for certain types of useful dogs, and my noble friend Lord Balerno has already explored this point. I do not see why somebody like a shepherd, who cannot pursue his occupation without a dog, should be expected to pay a licence fee which, so far as the Working Party is concerned, is purely for the maintenance of the dog warden service, bearing in mind that a sheep dog is unlikely ever to meet a dog warden, nor is its owner ever likely to avail himself of the dog warden service. If the object of the exercise is to fund the dog warden service, it is manifestly unfair that an urban sheep dog and its owner should be asked to do so—


I am very grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. The cost of the dog licence in the case of the shepherd and the farmer would of course be tax deductible, like the tax in relation to a motor car.


The noble Lord should tell that to the farmer who deducts the PAYE from the shepherd.

I turn now to the position of game-keepers in this matter. Not all of us have the same attitude towards field sports. All I say is that several million pounds in foreign currency is earned each year by people who let their shooting to foreigners. Gamekeepers cannot pursue their occupation without dogs. Why should they, in effect, subsidise this urban dog warden service? Of course, the same point about tax applies to them, but, even so, why should they pay even a proportion?

I would put one special case of remission which has not yet been mentioned, that is for spayed dogs. The Working Party considered this and dismissed it as being administratively difficult, but I do not see why it should be. If, when somebody queues up at the Post Office counter (or wherever it is to be) for an annual dog licence and he produces a certificate from the vet, stating that such-and-such a bitch, with the owner's name and address given, has been spayed, why should that person not perhaps have remitted some part of the licence fee? It would give such a person an inducement not to let the animal breed. Although I see some administrative difficulties about the scheme, it was not so long ago that we had different licences for different car engines; and I do not feel that this suggestion is impossible.

The Working Party suggested in a slightly feeble way that there might be higher fees for dogs such as alsatians. This is mentioned in paragraph 12.4 of the report. For the life of me I cannot see why. The Working Party put alsatians in what they are pleased to call a more powerful class of dog. The worst bite that I ever had was from a very small terrier owned by a girl friend, and it did not like any advances being made towards its owner. What the Working Party was thinking of when it wanted a higher fee for a more powerful dog I know not.

I must not become too facetious about this, and I should like to say a few words on habits. The Working Party sets out very succinctly and sensibly the difficulties which dogs bring unto themselves, their owners and the general population. I wonder slightly at the fact that the Working Party takes the definition of a stray dog in Section 3 of the Dogs Act and gives it a much more sweeping definition in its paragraph 3.2. Section 3 of the Dogs Act envisages dogs being at large without them necessarily being strays. The Working Party agrees to define a stray as a dog at large on a highway or place of public resort and appearing to be unaccompanied. In my mind there is no doubt that it will lead to considerable resentment on the part of the population if any dog at large and unaccompanied is to be regarded as a stray and be liable to be impounded. But on due reflection I think that that is something we will have to get used to, and if any kind of control of dogs in urban situations is to be effecttive, that is something which will have to come about.

No doubt there are many places in the country which will not have dog wardens. I suppose that small towns and villages will not ever find it necessary to have a dog warden, and such places probably do not suffer any great difficulty over stray dogs. So far as the country areas are concerned, I think that a much greater difficulty is likely to be that of sheep worrying, and here again I was slightly disappointed in the attitude of the Working Party. It was not too keen on an extension of the Animals Act 1971, which incidentally so far as Section 9 is concerned, does not extend to Scotland at all. Paragraph 17 of the report, dealing with access land, unfortunately in my submission, fails to recommend that there should be on the part of local authorities a duty to require owners in such circumstances to have their dogs on leads.

The point is made, first, that farmers can take out policies of insurance so far as livestock and the worrying of sheep is concerned. My Lords, that is expensive, and I happen to know that after one or two cases no insurance company will underwrite the risk. Secondly, it says that in cases of access land the farmer can make a stipulation on the question of dogs under control and treat as trespassers those who refuse to observe that. We know what happens so far as trespassers are concerned. The law treats them gently under most circumstances, and I have no doubt it will be the same in this case. My Lords, if the Government contemplate legislation there will, I think, have to be some further thought. Whether or not it will be on the lines that I suggest, one knows not. In the meantime, I think all noble Lords will be grateful, as I have said, first, to the Working Party for having crystallised our minds on what is a considerable problem and, secondly, to my noble friend for having brought the matter up this afternoon.

7.21 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for providing an opportunity for us to debate this subject today. The speeches of those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate give a very clear indication of the depth of public concern about this problem and the differing attitudes towards some of the recommendations. It is a subject which has tended to persuade some people, at least, to divide into pro-dog and anti-dog factions. I think your Lordships have generally avoided that misleading and unhelpful posture tonight.

My Lords, I do not believe that there is a "dog problem as such, and nor did the Working Party. What we have really been debating today is the complex social question which relates directly to an animal which in one form or another has been man's close companion for many thousands of years. A recent article in the magazine Nature suggested that dog had been the first wild animal to be domesticated, and this at a time when great parts of Europe, down even as far as the very spot at which we are now holding our debate, were covered by massive ice sheets. Through all the changes and chances of man's existence since that time, the dog has been not only his companion but his co-worker; and I think it is this kind of historical perspective which is necessary in any debate on how dogs can be associated with our modern urban civilisation.

It was certainly not with any wish to come up with a series of predetermined or facile answers that my right honourable friend the Minister for Sport and Recreation set up the Working Party in July 1974. The membership of the Working Party consisted of officials from Government Departments, local authority associations and police associations; and their terms of reference were deliberately set out in very broad terms. I will remind your Lordships of these terms of reference. They were: To examine the law, custom and practice relating to the control of dogs, including licensing arrangements, and the control of strays; and to make recommendations. No one could call those restrictive terms; and I think the Working Party very properly chose to interpret the terms liberally and to seek advice from a wide range of outside organisations to assist them in their work.

As your Lordships will see from Appendix F to the Working Party's report, some 91 organisations were invited to comment, and many of them responded very helpfully by submitting comments in writing. A number of organisations were also invited to give oral evidence, and this proved to be of the greatest value to the Working Party. My noble friend Lord Houghton, in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society, was able to give the Working Party the benefit of his experience and advice; and, as your Lordships will have heard this afternoon, he had a very great deal of value to say to the Working Party.

Although the Working Party's inquiries ranged widely, I think it was inevitable that the greater part of that report should focus on the question of stray dogs and the problems to which they give rise. We live in a small and crowded island, and in our cities every square yard (or perhaps in these days I ought to say every square metre) of ground is very valuable. In such a situation, a large number of stray animals is bound to give rise to anxiety. We have had various suggestions made tonight as to what is the number of stray animals that are around the country. My noble friend Lord Houghton referred to it; and the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred to the number of dogs and the ways in which we might be able to control them—even introducing family planning for dogs. But the most reliable estimate of the total dog population in the United Kingdom is that which was set out in a report, published in 1975, by the Joint Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Houghton.

That report estimated then that the dog population was 3½ 2 million in 1956, 5 million in 1966 and is probably over 6 million today. There was a recent market research survey, carried out by Audits of Great Britain, which suggested that the dog population was falling and stood at 4½ 8 million in June 1976; but my Department's view is that, since that survey was based on questions asked of house-holders, it would not necessarily give a very reliable indication of the number of unlicensed dogs, and we think that perhaps the estimate of my noble friend Lord Houghton's committee is probably still the most reasonably accurate which we have today.

The Working Party, as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has said, defines a stray dog as: Any dog at large in a highway or place of public resort which appears to an authorised officer to be unaccompanied by a person. As the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said, a dog which is a stray for only a few hours, perhaps while its owners are at work, is just as liable to cause trouble as an animal with no home at all; and the number of strays is very difficult to calculate. We have only one authentic statistic, and that is the number of dogs seized as strays by the police in a sixmonth period in 1974. This was 100,000. But it is generally accepted that the number of dogs seized as strays is only a very small proportion of those which are strays as defined by the Working Party. Various estimates have appeared in the Press suggesting that the number of strays might even be as high as 1 million, and we accept that this is a possible but not a verifiable estimate. But the anxiety of the public about strays has been reflected in the correspondence which has been coming into the Department of the Environment about the fouling of parks and footpaths, road safety hazards caused by stray dogs, the worrying of livestock, the risk of attack by packs of stray dogs and the possible health risk by contact with dogs.

I have referred to the membership of the Working Party and to the many different organisations from which they sought advice. I think it is interesting that, in the light of their researches, the Working Party unanimously came up with recommendations for the control of stray dogs which, in general if not perhaps in detail, coincided very closely with the recommendations in the report entitled, Dogs in the United Kingdom, made by the Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Houghton. As many of your Lordships have already noted, the main recommendations of the Working Party amount to a proposal to remove the responsibility for dogs from the police and to give it to a dog warden organisation, which would be a local authority responsibility and would be paid for by licence fees.

My Lords, the details associated with this recommendation are a matter for discussion, but there has been a considerable measure of support, both in your Lordships' House this evening and among the public at large who have written in on the report's recommendation, for the concept of such a change in structure.

The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, inquired about whether the police or the dog warden scheme would be the best way to deal with this. There would have to be some transitional arrangements until people were used to the dog wardens. There are about 50 dog warden schemes in operation at the present moment. Experience suggests that this transitional period need not be too long. The police would not lose all interest and we would expect them to be co-operating with the wardens. The noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, raised an interesting comment on the magnificent work which the Battersea Dogs Home has done for many years and he must be very proud of his association with it. He queried whether the waiting period, or the period of holding dogs, ought to be reduced from seven days to five days. I am advised that the Working Party recommended five days instead of seven days because general experience, in their view, showed that almost all dogs that will be claimed are claimed within 48 hours. Their retention is a cost to the public and five days seems to allow ample time. I was swayed personally by the arguments that the noble Lord put up and we will bear his comments in mind when having further discussions.

The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, also raised the question of the veterinary co-operation with the dog warden scheme; and the dog warden scheme would be expected to work in full co-operation with the veterinary profession. The noble Lords, Lord Balerno and Lord Ferrier, also reminded us of the sheep dogs and that wonderful programme based on Buttermere, of one man and his dog, which was enjoyed by many people. I was reminded of many years ago when I was in the Lake District, where a farmer was working young puppies and I commented about how nice they were. He told me in broad Cumbrian, an accent I cannot imitate, that I could have "young Fustian". When I inquired why, he told me that it was because he would not work. That bears out the point that the noble Lord made, that you may breed all the puppies you like but they are not necessarily all worker puppies.

The Government have not yet decided what action they will take on any suggestion or any recommendation in the report, but there can be little argument that since the passing of the Dogs Act in 1906, which gave the police responsibility for the capture, custody and disposal of stray dogs, the calls on police manpower have increased substantially. If it is eventually decided that the responsibility for dealing with stray dogs should be removed from the police, the local authorities are the obvious alternative to ask to set up a dog warden service.

The Working Party recommended that if such a service is to be set up, it should be financed by means of the licence fee. This is a question which has arisen in much of the correspondence which we have received in the Department and which has been raised this evening. The Working Party's recommendation that the licence fee should he £5 has been criticised. I do not think that the most important question is whether the level of the fee should be this sum or that sum, but rather whether it is right that the fee should be set at such a level as to pay for a dog warden service. Associated with this is the question of whether everybody should have to pay this fee, or whether some groups within the Community, the pensioners or the various groups within the Community, the pensioners or the various groups mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield—


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that the relationship between the licence fee and the number of exemptions is an important one?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, certainly this is something that the Department and this House would have to look at in due course when we are proposing legislation. The question of whether some owners are not liable to pay the fee or whether some breeds are supposed to have a higher fee paid for them is something that we should have to look at carefully. It is something that might have wider implications than just the licensing of a dog or various categories being exempted from having a licence. I should not like to express an opinion off the cuff. I should like to look at that point when considering all the other recommendations.

We come up against the very real human problems that so many noble Lords talked about tonight. To many people a dog is a treasured companion, and it might seem hard to add to the already formidable cost of keeping a dog by what would be to some people a substantial increase in the licence fee. But, as has been pointed out, it is an expensive matter to keep and feed a dog properly, and a substantial increase to the licence—which, after all, has not been changed for nearly a hundred years—does not seem likely to be a significant element in a person's decision whether or not to keep a dog.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, referred to the various odd bits of legislation that we have concerning dogs at the moment and expressed the hope that any future legislation would not be left to some Private Member's Bill to tidy it up, and that it would be nice and tidy to have some form of consolidation legislation. I should not have thought that there was much hope for time for this in the fore-seeable future. There is not a need for a great deal more legislation in order to implement many of the Working Party recommendations, if that is the final decision. The only recommendations which would require wholly new legislation are those which require all dogs to wear some form of identification mark; those which would require dogs to be kept on a lead in certain roads; those which would give the responsible authority powers to collect and dispose of dogs whose owners were no longer able to look after them; and those which would give the local authority discretionary power to subsidise the establishment of spaying clinics from licence revenue and to prevent the issue of licences to persons under the age of 18, or such age as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, might persuade us was appropriate.

So far as block licensing is concerned—and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford—there is no commitment to the Working Party's rejection of this idea. The Government are consulting widely, and our minds remain open on how the licensing system ought to be constructed. We are still having consultations and will have to come with firm proposals after consultation with all bodies and individuals. So far as the national scheme for wardens is concerned, the Government must stand by their prime need to commit no more manpower or resources and to have any scheme that might be adopted a self-financing scheme. Certainly, today of all days, with the earlier Statement, we could not advocate any scheme which involved the use of any more manpower or any more of our resources.

My Lords, many of the other recommendations in the Working Party Report follow from the concept of a dog warden's service and an increased licence fee. There are obvious arguments in favour of some system of identifying a dog for which a licence fee has been paid. In this context, I think it worth while reminding your Lordships that we estimate that at present only one-half of all the dog owners in this country who ought to pay the licence fee in fact do so. If the licence fee were to be increased and the services provided for the fee were to be improved, it would be more than ever unjust if a substantial proportion of dog owners did not pay anything at all.

Then we have had reference tonight from several noble Lords about the threat of rabies which has spread steadily Westward across the continent of Europe for the past 30 years. As your Lordships will know from a recent series of Questions in this House, import controls and quarantine arrangements have been strengthened and there are contingency plans to deal with an outbreak of rabies should this ever occur. It is infinitely preferable that we should concentrate on preventive measures of this kind since a rabies out-break on a large scale would have a most serious effect on the human and wild life in this country. The control of strays is one obvious measure which would reduce the problems of dealing with a rabies outbreak, should this occur. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi has reminded me that there is in our Printed Paper Office, available for any noble Lord who is interested, details of the Memorandum by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on what are our up-to-date arrangements and contingency plans for dealing with rabies.

But rabies is really in a category by itself as regards hazards to human health. As the Working Party points out, there are other health hazards; but dogs which are correctly managed and cared for constitute only a very small hazard to human health. A linked problem of which we have not heard much tonight is that of the nuisance which dogs cause by fouling footpaths and parks and other urban spaces. It is on this latter point that my Department has had more correspondence than anything else and it is clearly a matter of great public concern. Such fouling is of course nauseatingly unpleasant, and it may in a small number of cases—particularly in the case of small children—be hazardous to health.

The Working Party I believe have taken a rational and sensible view of the matter. Many of the chief hazards—particularly the one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, the toxocara canis which is a common round worm in dogs—can he dealt with if the dogs arc properly cared for and are dcwormed. The dog which is carefully looked after and treated in this way clearly presents much less of a risk than does the stray; and again we find ourselves back to the need to control strays. The same is true of the nuisance which dogs cause in parks and play areas for children. Dogs have to be exercised; and perhaps your Lordships will not misunderstand me when f say that their every movement cannot be controlled. But the dog which is out with his owner is much less likely to go into a children's play area or into places where fouling would be particularly irksome, and the Working Party's view that if the number of stray dogs can be reduced so will the nuisance caused by dogs seems to me to be a sensible one.

The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred to the worrying of sheep. That certainly is a serious problem in some parts of the country. In 1973, over 4,000 sheep were killed and 3,500 injured as a result of attacks by dogs. The Working Party felt that the law in England and Wales was adequate, and to give farmers any further powers might be seen as giving them a licence to kill dogs as they please. But there has been a great increase in livestock worrying in Northern Ireland, and the Working Party acknowledge that the authorities there might wish to strenghen their own laws beyond the limits which at the moment we find acceptable in England and Wales.

My Lords, the Motion for Papers before the House is to take note of the report of the Working Party, and I think in the course of our deliberations this evening we have done this rather effectively. The Working Party's report has been presented to my right honourable friend the Minister for Sport and Recreation and, as you will have seen from the foreword to the report, he has made it plain that the Government have no present proposals for action in any of the areas covered by the report's recommendations. This is so very much a matter which directly affects the happiness of families throughout the country that the Government thought it right both to publish the report and to invite comments upon it.

I said earlier in this speech that it was all too easy but misleading to divide into pro and anti-dog factions. The correspondence which the Government's invitation in the foreword to the report has generated has inevitably shown a very wide range of opinion. Many of the points which have been made in correspondence have been echoed in the course of this debate, and it has been extremely helpful that so far some 110 persons and groups have thought it worthwhile to raise particular points with their Members of Parliament, and some 180 others have written in direct to the Department. Many of the organisations which were consulted by the Working Party have also sent in their comments on the published report.

It is clear from this that the subject has—as one would expect—aroused a great deal of public interest. All the points which have been raised by the various correspondents have been carefully noted and will be taken fully into account by the Government before any decisions are taken on action to implement the recommendations of the Working Party's report. I am sure I do not need to assure your Lordships that all the points which have been made in this debate will similarly be noted very carefully.

But the consultation process is not yet complete. We have not yet received the views of the local authority associations whose members would be most directly affected if the recommendations of the report were to be implemented, and letters from the public and other interested organisations are still coming in. It has therefore been a most opportune moment for this House to discuss this question and, as I said at the beginning of my reply, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, for raising it. It was also most helpful to hear the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on this subject about which he is so knowledgeable and concerned; and also the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, on the work of the Battersea Dogs Home with which he has been associated for so long, and the many other notable contributions in the discussion. I assure your Lordships that what has been said in this debate will be important in helping the Government to decide their policy on a matter on which considerations have to be humane in a sense which allows that word to extend beyond humanity. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion this evening.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness for that most excellent reply. It does not hold out many hopes of very much being done and it will not leave her unsurprised when I tell her that there are some among us who might in the future keep on stirring and pressing this matter. May I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate; it has been most interesting and has covered all the points which I expected to be raised. I therefore merely conclude by asking your Lordships' leave to with-draw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.