HL Deb 29 April 1980 vol 408 cc1136-9

2.57 p.m.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they propose to amend the dog licensing system in Northern Ireland and when they hope to extend the new system to the rest of the United Kingdom.


My Lords, amendment of the dog licensing system in Northern Ireland is the subject of an Order in Council at present being drafted. The Government are currently considering the question of dog licensing in the rest of the United Kingdom, along with the rest of the recommendations of the interdepartmental working party on dogs.

The Earl of LISTOWEL

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, and particularly for the statement that an Order in Council relating to Northern Ireland is already in draft, but may I ask him why the proposals for Northern Ireland are not extended to England, Scotland and Wales, because the problem of sheep worrying is exactly the same in all the rural areas of the United Kingdom? May I further ask him why the Government are still considering a report which was made in favour of the recommendation of a dog warden system for the United Kingdom by a Government committee four years ago?


My Lords, I accept what the noble Earl says to a certain extent. Actually, it is not the same in Great Britain as in Northern Ireland at the moment. For instance, in the case of stock being worried by dogs, at the moment farmers have no remedy in Northern Ireland. This is part of a package which was in the pipeline when this Government came to office. We have allowed what you might call the continuation of the pipeline, and let it see the light of day. The situation is not the same in Northern Ireland as it is in England or Wales at the moment and this is bringing it into line. We are continuing looking at some other amendments, like the licensing, as well.

On the point as to why we do not license in Britain, we are still considering the matter. It was August 1976 that the Government received this report. After some two years the late Government did not come to any conclusions about it. They announced that they would agree in principle that the problem of dogs should be handed over to local authorities rather than the police, but that was the only conclusion with which they said they were in agreement in principle. We have been in office for less than a year, and we are still working on the problem.


My Lords, as to the dog licensing system in Northern Ireland, would the noble Lord be good enough to talk to his right honourable friend and urge him to introduce dog race totalisators into Northern Ireland, which is the only country in the world in which dog racing takes place where it is not lawful to have a totalisator? It will require a simple amendment to the 1957 Northern Ireland Betting Act; and, although the Government have promised to do something, as usual nothing has been done.


My Lords, it is an interesting proposition that the noble Lord has put to me, but my brief does not cover it.


My Lords, although the Government have been in office for only one year, does not the noble Lord the Minister recall taking part in a debate on the working party over two years ago in which he expressed some opinions, so that the Government did not come into office without having considered the problem? Why, therefore, were they unable to introduce legislation based on the sensible remarks that the noble Lord made when in Opposition?


My Lords, I am what you might call the very amoeba of the Government, the one-celled animal. When we were in Opposition I was able to give thought to these matters. My right honourable friends and my noble friends who were in the Shadow Cabinet (and are now in the Cabinet) were concentrating on bigger matters than dogs. The subject of dogs is a very dangerous one to touch on. You very seldom please everyone and you get bitten at the end of the day.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that when he comes down to adjusting the law on dogs, as there are 27 to 30 Acts which affect them it would be better if he took some time to adjust them all and produced an answer which was enforceable, as opposed to the situation at the present time when none of the operating Acts is being enforced adequately?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, whose interest in dogs is well known. When we get the answer, we want to get it right. It may interest noble Lords to know that this proposed legislation for Northern Ireland, which will be published in the form of a consultative document within the next eight weeks, will include such matters as compulsion for dogs on the highways to be kept on leads and so on. These matters are being considered carefully and we do not want a half-cocked Act when, with due consideration, we can get the proper thing.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what will be the cost of the dog licence, taking into account inflation which his important friends are fighting so hard to beat?


My Lords, it depends on the rate one considers and the starting date. The Northern Ireland proposed licence fee is £4—which we hope to have in effect by this time next year.


My Lords, whatever the differences may be between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, will the noble Lord bear in mind that a dog warden scheme has the support of local authorities, police, farmers, Members in both Houses of Parliament, and support from everyone who has looked at this problem? As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, indicated that the problem of stray dogs is widespread in the whole of the United Kingdom. Will he seek early implementation of the scheme for the whole of the United Kingdom?


My Lords, I can only repeat that the Government are looking at it. I cannot promise early implementation.

The Earl of SWINTON

My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has said about the differences between Northern Ireland and this country, may I ask under what category somebody falls who owns an Irish setter in this country?


My Lords, it will depend upon the place of residence. If in Northern Ireland, it is there; and if in the rest of Great Britain, it will be as it is.