HL Deb 08 December 1981 vol 425 cc1260-3
Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be now considered on Report.—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, people must be getting the impression that Scotland is overrun by stray dogs. I think this must be the twentieth such Bill before us in the past two years. I thought that even the very name Midlothian was enough to make the Government see red, and that it would be inclined to impress on them the need to save money. These Bills cost quite a bit of money. I know it is all right for lawyers and parliamentary agents; they are not concerned about it, and the Government do not seem to be terribly worried. This is really to shed the load in respect of looking after stray dogs. At present under the 1906 Act it rests with the police. This is to give it to local authorities and authorised officers; in other words, they are going to employ more people to do this.

What perplexes me even more is that we have before us at the present time two Scottish local government Bills. One of these is the Civic Government Bill, which has already had a Second Reading and is going to attract interesting Committee proceedings in this House on Thursday. This Confirmation Bill amends Section 3 of the 1906 Act, but so does the Civic Government Bill. Just to make things even more complex—the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be interested in this and it may be that he will provide me with the ultimate answer in respect of what happens here—we read: In its application to the district and to the Council section 3 (Seizure of stray dogs) of the Dogs Act 1906 shall be read and have effect as if the following subsections were substituted for subsections (1) to (7) of that section". That is what is before us at the moment. But on Thursday we shall have before us: Control of stray dogs. Clause 124…the said section 3 shall be amended as follows: subsections (1), (2), (4), (6), (7)". How long is this going to last, for which Midlothian has paid a fair sum of money? Part of what they are dealing with is going to be repealed in the other Act. Which is going to be the authority? It is bad enough at the moment, but we are now going to have the Dogs Act 1906, the Civic Government Act 1982 (when it is passed), and then there is this Bill. Are we going to have a Stray Dogs (Scotland) Consolidation Act? We are going to need it. I hope the noble Lord the Minister will explain to me the standing of this Order Confirmation Bill once we pass the Civic Government Act.

I understood a long time ago that the Civic Government Act was going to solve our problems and we would not have this continuing line-up of district councils in Scotland spending money; the Government themselves were going to do what they should have done in the first instance, discouraged the bringing forward of these orders, and legislation for all the district councils. It really is a dog's breakfast rather than a stray dogs Bill.

Lord de Clifford

My Lords, I am slightly bemused at the moment. I should like to say to the noble Lord that if we are to have a pattern of district council order, whether it is in Scotland or England or anywhere else, this appears to me to be an extremely good one. It is one which I think meets all the requirements which anybody who is concerned with dogs would like. I would like to ask the noble Lord, if I may, a question as regards Section 3(5): No dog so seized shall be given or sold for the purposes of vivisection". This is a most agreeable subsection, but vivisection in the eyes of many people means the cutting up of dogs, where you take them and use instruments on them. Can the noble Lord please tell me whether this also covers experiments which are designed to prove drugs or cosmetics or things like that?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I might have known that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, would have done his homework to the extent that he would start what fortunately will not he too long a debate upon the canine population of Scotland. I hope it is not for that reason entirely that that celebrated dog lover, the noble and learned Lord, is still sitting on the Woolsack; the noble Lord has, I think, two dogs that we know about. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, began his comments by referring to the number of orders, and I can confirm to him that this is indeed the twenty-first order of this type. This confirms, as the noble Lord pointed out, that Scotland does have a problem in this area of stray dogs.

I am given to understand that the District Council of Edinburgh was the first to seek guidance, and indeed to have a Bill dealing with the problem of stray dogs, followed by the City and District of Aberdeen, Glasgow in 1977, and indeed I believe the noble Lord's own district of Kilmarnock and Loudon.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, Kyle and Carrick.

Lord Lyell

Well, at any rate a district that will be familiar to the noble Lord. They took steps to deal with this menace of dogs at the end of 1979. With regard to the noble Lord's comments about spending money, the only money that might be spent is on the legal fees, and I do not believe that that is particularly exceptional in these cases. The noble Lord mentioned the problem of relevant costs. I would confirm to him and to your Lordships that any costs incurred as a result of this particular order, and indeed all the others that have gone before, will be required to be met within the council's existing expenditure limits. But any such expenditure will be regarded as relevant expenditure for the purposes of the rate support grant. I think that that is a very valuable concession.

The noble Lord, Lord Ross, thought that this twenty-first order and, indeed, the other 20 orders, would have given rise to employing vast numbers of persons to act as the relevant authorised officers. I understand that the particular order before your Lordships today will necessitate the employment of one or possibly two persons who normally have been found to be sufficient for the purposes of complying with all the other 20 orders. We have no reason to think that the district of Midlothian would have any greater dog problem than any of the other 20 district councils that have already had to apply and use this private legislation machinery.

I turn to the problem which was raised by my noble friend Lord de Clifford. We are very grateful for his support and we recognise his support in general for the dog population of Scotland and, of course, the United Kingdom. However, I am afraid that I am unable to give him a precise definition of the word "vivisection" as it appears in paragraph 3(5) of the order. I shall endeavour to find out whether "vivisection", as defined in the order, covers the points he raised as regards cosmetics, drugs, et cetera. I shall attempt to find a precise definition of "vivisection", and I hope that both my noble friend and the House will forgive me if I write to my noble friend.

I hope that I have been able to set at rest the fear of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, of the terrible additional burdens that this twenty-first order will bring. It is similar to 20 orders which have already been successfully passed by your Lordships' House and another place to combat this minor menace, although I appreciate that in some areas it is something of a major menace. If a dog makes an unprovoked attack upon any one of your Lordships then it certainly becomes a major menace. For that reason—and I hope your Lordships will agree—I beg to move that the Bill be now considered on Report.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he deal with the more important point that I raised about the amendment of the same clause in the Civic Government Bill and explain how the two things fit in?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am so sorry, I might have known that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, would raise this point. Indeed, I have a note of it. The noble Lord and the House will appreciate that we are only just beginning our consideration of the Civic Government Bill and that such a major measure will take a reasonable time to come into effect. The particular order that we are considering today, together with the other 20 orders, will give all the districts the powers to deal with the problem of stray dogs. However, we understand that the two relevant clauses—Clause 73 and above all Clause 124—of the Civic Government Bill will give discretionary power to all Scottish local authorities to appoint such officers as are mentioned in the order, and, indeed, in the Bill, to deal with the problem of stray dogs.

But the provision in the Civic Government Bill will consolidate—and we certainly intend to take this action—all the existing local Act powers (and for that purpose the present order that we are dealing with today will apply existing local Act powers) and will make them generally available to all the Scottish local authorities to adopt if they so wish. It will be purely permissive. In view of the general power which we shall include in the Civic Government Bill, that Bill will also provide that all existing local Act powers for the particular purpose of dealing with dogs will be repealed. Clause 124 will cover all the orders that have been passed so far and will consolidate them. If there is any problem, the provision will be repealed. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.